Cook, Reynolds star as Souths march towards Panthers showdown

Souths hooker Damien Cook scored a try and set up two more as the Bunnies and super coach Wayne Bennett marched to within 80 minutes of a grand final.

When Cook scored with 90 seconds remaining, it officially capped the worst Saturday in Parramatta's history.

Jaxson Paulo celebrates a try.Credit:Getty

The Eels awoke to the news veteran centre Michael Jennings had been stood down for returning a positive sample – then went to bed knowing their title tilt was officially over.

Souths' 38-24 victory sets up a bumper all-Sydney clash against Penrith.

The kids at the foot of the mountains are one of the best attacking teams to watch. The Panthers will be refreshed from the week off and notched a win against Souths in round seven.

If Penrith are excellent with the ball, Souths are not too far behind them. They have now amassed 144 points in three games.

The usual suspects were all excellent, especially Cook and skipper Adam Reynolds.

A Reynolds grubber early in the second half, which brushed the upright and forced a Parramatta dropout, almost set the tone for the rest of the game.

Trailing 18-8 at the break, courtesy of five minutes of magic from Parramatta skipper Clint Gutherson, Souths went about working over their blue and gold rivals.

Reynolds sliced through a gap to find Campbell Graham, who found Cameron Murray. And Cook passed and grubbered for two more Souths tries for Liam Knight and Bayley Sironen.

Damien Cook runs with the ball at Bankwest Stadium.Credit:Getty

When he raced for the corner late in the game and then stepped inside Gutherson – easily the Eels best – the red and green party was pumping.

To be fair, it had started about 10 minutes earlier when Jaxson Paulo took a 50m intercept try.

Cook reminded everybody inside Bankwest Stadium and at home watching in their living rooms why he remains the clear-cut second-best hooker in the game behind Cameron Smith.

He appeared to pick up a leg injury just before the break but, sadly for the Eels supporters, it was nothing serious.

Bennett would have been letting his mind drift to the Penrith hit-out up the M4 Motorway in seven days.

There will be no shortage of storylines. Souths are into their third straight preliminary final. Cook versus Api Koroisau.

And who can forget Gus Gould pitching Bennett to the Penrith board a couple of years ago, only for chairman Dave O'Neill to stick with his good mate Ivan Cleary.

Parramatta promised so much but will need to wait another year for that elusive silverware.

If the 2020 NRL season was a horse race, the Eels charged out of the blocks but were gone a long way out from home.

Some Gutherson magic had the 14,510 fans in full voice.

He scored a try from a fantastic Junior Paulo offload, set up George Jennings and then grabbed another. His celebration was infectious.

It would have been fascinating to hear what Gutherson said to the troops when they gathered in a huddle after the full-time siren.

Parramatta, missing plenty of experience through the loss of Blake Ferguson, Maika Sivo, Marata Niukore and Jennings from last week's side, got off to the worst possible start when Shaun Lane dropped the ball cold on the second tackle.

Souths had a few repeat sets and were eventually happy to take a penalty goal.

Haze Dunster, the Kiwi rookie handed his debut on game day, coped with plenty of aerial traffic, but dropped a simple pass on his own 10m line.

And Souths made him pay with a try to Paulo from the scrum to give Souths an 8-0 lead.

Mitch Moses had the chance to level the scores with a penalty goal midway through the second half, but it slammed off the upright into the arms of Dane Gagai, and Souths never looked back. Glory, Glory.

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