The South Sydney Rabbitohs have won a dramatic, come-from-behind clash with the St George Illawarra Dragons 26-24 at the SCG for Round 22 of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs Rabbitohs looked to add another chapter to their rich rivalry against the St George Illawarra Dragons on the historic SCG turf, with 18-year-old Souths Junior Campbell Graham making his NRL debut in front of a crowd of 12,312.
Two early mistakes by the Dragons handed over plenty of possession to the Red and Greens, however a ruck penalty would give the Red V a good opportunity to post first points, and would do so through Jason Nightingale in the 9th minute thanks to a Gareth Widdop cut out pass.
The English five-eighth would convert to give the Dragons a 6-0 lead after ten minutes.
A penalty for a strip from the kick off would give the Saints further territory and they looked to extend their lead through Joel Thompson, only for a Widdop pass to be called forward.
Winger Jason Nightingale looked to diffuse a cross-field bomb by Adam Reynolds, however he losing his footing he was bundled out to touch, and on the next set the Red and Greens would hit back through Alex Johnston sweeping out the back, bringing his season tally to 17 tries.
Reynolds would convert to get even up the scores with just under a quarter of the game completed.
Bryson Goodwin’s experience on the wing would shine through as he tip-toed the sideline to catch a Gareth Widdop penalty kick to touch, while also adding some flair with a reverse flick pass to Johnston.
Some ad lib play by the Dragons on their own line a few sets later would backfire as they lost possession, however they would absorb the Rabbitohs’ advances to their try line.
They would fail to do so on the next set however, with some clever ball playing by John Sutton and Johnston sending Damien Cook over the line for his second try of the season.
Adam Reynolds’ conversion would bounce off the uprights and sail over the black dot, giving the Red and Greens a 6-point lead with 15 to go in the first half.
The Dragons would suffer a blow with Josh Dugan being sent from the field due to an ankle injury immediately afterwards.
Bryson Goodwin’s efforts would continue as he produced a try saving play after Dragons fullback Matt Dufty made a break off a Tyson Frizell offload, and failed to get the final pass away after Goodwin got a hand onto the ball, knocking it on.
It was all in vain however, as Thompson would make amends and get his four pointer from a Josh McCrone cross-field kick after video confirmation. Gareth Widdop would convert the try to make the scores even once again.
Frizell continued to prove himself a handful for the Rabbitohs’ defence with late offloads, and after creating some overlaps, the Red and Greens would be in a bigger hole after captain Sam Burgess was sent to the sin bin for tackling Frizell without the ball.
The Dragons would break the deadlock with a penalty goal, however they would extend their lead further with less than a minute on the clock, taking advantage of the difference in numbers with another cross field kick from McCrone, this time taken by Dugan’s replacement, Kurt Mann.
Widdop would miss the conversion, holding onto a slender 6 point lead at the break.
The second stanza would begin in poor fashion as Adam Reynolds would kick the ball out on the full after the first set of play, however the Dragons failed to capitalise after knocking the ball on, handing the Rabbits a seven-tackle set.
A Damien Cook kick and regather nearly paid off for the away side on fifth tackle, however a stray pass afterwards saw the Dragons regain possession.
Gareth Widdop would return serve with a kick out on the full of his own just a few sets later, and a penalty for a slow peel would allow the Rabbitohs to cleverly wind down the clock by taking a penalty goal. Reynolds would kick the goal to get his team within four points.
Burgess’ return would be welcomed as he fed a short ball to Cody Walker, which nearly saw Johnston grab his second try from a chip kick, only for fullback Matt Dufty to recover the ball at the last second.
Both teams continued to try and get over one another with some hard running and strong defence, while the kicking game from both halfbacks kept the wingers and fullbacks on high alert.
A penalty from a Jake Marketo crusher tackle would break the flow of play and give the Rabbitohs the field position they needed to give themselves the lead, however they would fail to capitalise with a stray pass from Adam Reynolds bouncing out of play.
Tensions became heated as Marketo and Cody Walker exchanged pleasantries, and after a Josh McCrone kick pinned Alex Johnston behind the in-goal, the Dragons would try to continue piling on pressure, however this time Johnston was able to take the ball on the full, earning his side a seven-tackle set.
Goodwin would again prevent another try scoring opportunity for the Dragons after Kurt Mann broke through the line and kicked for an inside runner, only for the experienced Rabbitoh to take the ball and ground it behind the posts.
The pressure continued to mount on the Rabbitohs as the Dragons near-perfect kicking game earned them back to back repeat sets, and it would be too much for the Red and Green defence, with Nene MacDonald scoring the first try of the second half in the 70th minute.
Widdop then nailed his third sideline conversion of the night, giving the home side a ten-point advantage.
The Rabbitohs looked to stage a fightback with an ad lib passage of play seeing John Sutton put the ball on the line, and with Adam Reynolds conversion, it was game on with less than five minutes to go and the Rabbitohs down by just four points.
The never give up attitude of the Red and Greens paid off when they crossed over just a few minutes later to even the scores with Alex Johnston sweeping across field to find Bryson Goodwin on the left wing.
Adam Reynolds lived up to his title as one of the competitions’ sharpshooters by landing the sideline conversion, giving Souths a famous victory at the SCG.
Rabbitohs 26 (Alex Johnston, Damien Cook, John Sutton, Bryson Goodwin tries; Adam Reynolds 5 goals)
Dragons 24 (Jason Nightingale, Joel Thompson, Kurt Mann, Nene MacDonald tries; Gareth Widdop 4 goals)