ROUND 2: St. George-Illawarra Dragons v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 21/3/19)

It was a fast start in Kogarah on Thursday night when the Dragons and Rabbitohs met to reprise their Charity Shield clash a couple of weeks before. The Red V almost scored first, thanks to an early burst of field position after a dangerous tackle from John Sutton, which laid the platform for Tariq Sims to break through the defence on the Dragons’ right edge. Alex Johnston stepped up, however, wrapping himself around Sims’ legs so that he lost control of the football just before grounding it.

A set later, Cameron Murray collected the ball from Damien Cook and made a break on the third tackle, briefly dummying as he reached the ten metre line, as if considering whether to pass it back inside to Johnston. Instead he backed himself, diving beneath the posts to set up Adam Reynolds for the easiest kick of the night. South Sydney got a boost on the restart after an offside penalty from Sims, but lost some momentum when Tom Burgess put down the football midway through the set.

The Dragons made the most of this shift in momentum, gaining a repeat set on the last tackle before commencing a left side raid that started with a superb offload from Paul Vaughan. Ferrying the footy across the field, and running into the defensive line a couple of times, Gareth Widdop got it across to Tim Lafai, who took on three or four South Sydney defenders before sending a flick pass to Jordan Pereira to score the first four points for the home team.

Widdop’s conversion angle couldn’t have been more different from Reynolds’, but he still sent the footy through the posts, levelling the score at 6-6 as the second ten minutes of the match got underway. Five minutes later, the Dragons started a barnstorming set that felt as if it must result in points, especially when Reynolds stripped the ball from Norman, gifting them another fresh burst of field position.

The Dragons got their first dropout at the end of the next set, when Hunt chased down his own kick and very nearly grounded it, only for Johnston to bump it into touch at the last second. They got another boost when Tom Burgess was pinged for a dangerous tackle early in the dropout, before Norman lobbed an enormous harbor bridge pass across to the left edge to send Pereira over for a double. While the big winger had to catch the ball right on the ground, he only had to contend with Dane Gagai, disposing of him with a big right hand fend before scoring his second try.

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This time Widdop’s kick ricocheted off the uprights, although a huge hit from Sims on Reynolds suggested the Dragons were getting ready to strike again. A set later, and a handling error from Sutton later, they tried to make another left edge move, but this time Lafai was thoroughly cleaned up before he could nab Pereira a hat trick. They got their next chance for more points soon after, though, when Liam Knight was put on report for working James Graham on the ground.

With Widdop booting through the first penalty kick, the Dragons were on a converted try lead, while Reynolds copped his second big hit of the night a set later. This time Kerr was put on report, getting the Bunnies a fresh set, while Reynolds only seemed galvanised by the hit, managing to force a dropout at the end of it all. Still, a massive tackle from Lafai on Kyle Turner spoke volumes of how the Bunnies were struggling here, even with this additional field position, before Widdop promptly cleaned up a Gagai kick in the corner and the Dragons got rolling once more.

Three minutes out from the siren Reynolds forced another dropout, trapping Lafai in goal with a deft crossfield kick, but the Rabbits failed to capitalise, after Knight was held to have lost the footy even though the replay showed it had been stripped out of his hands by Luciano Leilua. The Bunnies got a lucky break , though, when Kerr lost the footy at the start of the next set, and then another lucky break when Norman got a late offside penalty after Sam Burgess lost the footy right on the line.

It was a pretty dismal ending, then, when Burgess lost the footy again on the restart, with thirty seconds on the clock, after collecting it from Cook right in front of the posts. Although the Dragons were only six ahead, this had been a pretty underwhelming game for South Sydney, especially after their win over the Roosters the week before. They had to come back from the break like it was a different game – and they did, racking up a torrent of tries that got them an even better win than Round 1.

The first four points came off some quick thinking from Braidon Burns, who chased down an early Reynolds kick, and then booted it into Widdop, forcing a knock-on from the St. George captain before somersaulting over the field behind them. Walker came within a metre of line on the first tackle of the next set, before Sam Burgess reached out a hand the midst of a tackle from Leilua and Hunt to plant the footy on the chalk, setting up Reynolds for a fairly straightforward two points.

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It was a cathartic moment for Sam after his dual fumbles at the end of the first stanza, and a promising moment for the Bunnies, who had levelled the scoreline with the same tryscoring combination – Murray, Surgess – that had started their attack against the Roosters the week before. They started their decimating comeback on the restart, when Burgess went from try scorer to try assister, on the back of one of their best formations on the left edge all night.

The play started with Reynolds bringing the footy into the line, getting the St. George defence just interested enough to clear up space for Burgess to poke his nose through. Serene under pressure, Burgess then paused, looked around, and actually found time to offload with both hands to Walker, who ran a good line to gather the Steeden from him and get it to ground, before Reynolds bookended the play by booting another two-pointer through the posts.

Burns was the next Bunny to go over, catching a Reynolds chip on the bounce before twisting and spinning through a tackle from Ravalawa, Graham and Widdop, all the while maintaining enough control of the footy to bring it down cleanly with his right hand. If anything, the three defenders helped him with the putdown, since they all arrived in the tackle at slightly different points, creating a staggered rhythm that made it easier for Burns to spin through them on his way to the grass.

Burns had laid the platform for Burgess’ opening try with his follow-up kick, so it felt like poetic justice to see him cross over for his four points here. With Reynolds adding yet another conversion, the Rabbitohs had gone from being half the Dragons, to double the Dragons, in less than twenty minutes. They got even further ahead a few sets later, when Johnston found himself faced with Ravalawa on the left edge, dummying at just the right time to send Campbell Graham across in the corner

While Reynolds shanked the kick, the Bunnies were already too far ahead to catch. They probably would have notched up a couple of tries if Burns had made a better decision on the restart, when he broke through down the left edge and elected to kick instead of tacking the tackle, since his momentum would easily have carried through a couple of rapid play-the-balls. Still, the last South Sydney points were pretty special, especially since they started with an overlong kick from Reynolds.

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With a seven tackle set, the Dragons were in good position to score, especially when they got a penalty on the first tackle thanks to a strip from Murray, but Dufty coughed up the footy before they could make any real headway. On the fourth tackle of the next set, Sam Burgess went over the line, making an immense effort to get to ground beneath Vaughan and Latimore, before Reynolds booted through the last two cardinal and myrtle points of the night.

While Lafai crossed over five minutes later, and Widdop added another conversion, this barely counted as a consolation try, so categorically had the Bunnies regained control of the match. The Red V will be looking for a resounding win, then when they travel to Brisbane to meet the Broncos next week, while South Sydney will be keen to make it three from three when they host the Titans at ANZ on Sunday afternoon.

About Billy Stevenson (489 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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