Coming off the back of three straight losses after their controversial 18-17 Good Friday victory over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, the South Sydney Rabbitohs re-entered the winners’ circle with a 16-10 Round 9 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium.
As the Rabbitohs dealt with a number of injuries to key players such as John Sutton, Dylan Walker, Adam Reynolds, Kyle Turner and Glenn Stewart at some point during the initial period of the season, the side went in search of victory against the Saints.
The Rabbitohs would be seeking to emulate the form that they displayed against the joint-venture in the 2014 season, which saw the red and greens claim two victories in their two encounters. Yet despite the Club’s recent success over the Red V, the current form of the Dragons and the tradition associated with the battle between the two sides would mean that it wouldn’t be an easy victory for the Redfern-based team.
Round 9 would provide South Sydney with a significant boost, seeing the return of halfback Adam Reynolds, who had been side-lined with a knee injury incurred during the Good Friday clash with the Bulldogs. In addition to the return of Reynolds, the match against the Dragons also signaled the emergence of outside-back Aaron Gray, who bagged a double in his second game in the top grade.
With a heavily bandaged knee, Reynolds was called upon early to take the two points on offer, after John Sutton was awarded a penalty as a result of a high tackle. The halfback made no mistake with the kick, providing Souths with a 2-0 lead.
The scores were levelled soon after, when Gareth Widdop added two-points via a penalty goal from directly in front of the uprights.
It would be the Saints that would cross for the first try of the evening, with Peter Mata’utia showing some fancy footwork, busting through the Rabbitohs defensive line on the short-side before linking up with a support runner in the form of Gareth Widdop – the England international racing away to score, setting up a 6-2 score line for his team.
As the first half of the match wound down, a text-book Rabbitohs back-line play saw the ball shifted out to the flank, creating an overlap and putting Aaron Gray into space. The young-gun made full use of the opportunity, providing the finishing touches and diving over in the corner for his first NRL try. Reynolds was unable to add the extras, leaving the score at six points apiece.
Despite the Rabbitohs strong back-end of the opening stanza, the last shot of the first-half would be fired by the Dragons, with Jason Nightingale flirting with the touch-line and crossing over in the corner. Widdop’s conversion was unsuccessful meaning the Saints would head to the break with a 10-6 advantage.
On the resumption, the Rabbitohs went on the attack, spreading the ball out wide and stretching the Dragons defensive line. Once again, it was Aaron Gray that made the most of space provided to him, showing brute strength to muscle his way over in the corner for his second try of the night. The side-line conversion proved to be no challenge for Reynolds, securing a 12-10 score line in favour of the men in red and green.
It would be the Rabbitohs who dominate proceedings from that point, claiming the lion share of possession. South Sydney built significant pressure off the back of five repeat-sets, resulting in Michael Maguire’s men capitalizing on the tiring defence of the Red V, who were unable to shift out wide to stop Alex Johnston from crashing over in the corner. With Adam Reynolds hitting the upright with the conversion attempt, the score remained at 16-10.
As the clock wound down, the Dragons valiantly attacked the Rabbitohs try line, building pressure of their own. Despite this, the defence of South Sydney was resilient, withholding the promising late bombardments to hold on for a tough 16-10 victory.