Debate brawl: Rubio and Cruz go hard after Trump

From left, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., businessman Donald Trump and Sen.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz barreled into Thursday's Republican debate eager to seize one last chance to slow Donald Trump's before next week's Super Tuesday mega-round of voting, and immediately took him on over his immigration positions and more.

In a strikingly aggressive attack that was quickly followed up by opposition emails from his campaign, Rubio went after Trump for his companies' bankruptcies; his management of Trump University, which is the subject of a federal lawsuit; and his use of undocumented and foreign workers in his properties in NY and Florida.

Mr Trump shot back: "I'm the only one [here] who's hired people". "You've hired nobody", he scoffed, and then tried to insult Mr. Rubio over his financial problem.

Rubio fired back, "I just watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago".

Trump says he would defund Planned Parenthood because he's pro-life, but acknowledges millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood. I know you're embarrassed but keep fighting.

"We can not have a commander in chief that is not ready the first day in office, because Valdimir Putin is not going to wait for the next president to catch up", Rubio said.

"One week from today will be the most important night of the campaign", Cruz told supporters Tuesday night after coming in third place behind Trump and Rubio in Nevada.

Rubio, along with most of the other GOP presidential candidates, has treated Trump with kid-gloves for months, tiptoeing around glaring questions about the real estate mogul's business record, political ideology, brash temperament and ambiguous policy proposals.

And when he charged in his first answer that Trump has changed his views on illegal immigration, of all things - and when Cruz chimed in by saying that while he was working on the immigration issue Trump was firing Dennis Rodman on "Celebrity Apprentice" - they were off to the rowdy races.

Cruz and Rubio backers alike insisted there was no coordination between the senators in their tag-team assault on Trump.

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Afterward, Trump called it "really one of my best debates - considering that I was being hit from all sides".

Cruz admitted that Trump had given him $5,000.

Trump: "I want to release my tax returns, but..." .

Trump's talk about building a wall - and making Mexico pay for it - certainly has made headlines. While Trump went along with the rest of the Republicans in saying that he would defund the group because he is pro-life, he defended the work they do providing reproductive care and cancer screenings. Joining in, Cruz criticized Trump for suggesting he alone had "discovered the issue of illegal immigration".

Cruz and Rubio said they would release new tax returns within the next two days.

Rubio told Trump: "The position you've taken is an anti-Israel position".

"I can't release it while I'm under an audit", he said. Cruz cracked. "Donald - Donald, relax".

What is your plan, Rubio demanded of Trump.

Trump said playing sports in his youth taught him that, 'When you're choker, you're always a choker.

"I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago", Trump said, referring to the New Hampshire debate. When all five were asked about North Korea's president, he said, "We should make sure that he knows that if he ever shoots a missile at us it'll be the last thing he does".

He said Trump effectively responded to most criticisms but at times seemed repetitive.