The Dragons led 10-8 with 22 minutes remaining.
Between Adam Reynolds converting his own try to make it a two-point game and the South Sydney halfback kicking the match-winning field goal with 20 seconds on the clock, the momentum swung several times in the sudden-death semi-final at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
These are the moments that proved pivotal in sending the Rabbitohs into next week’s preliminary final against the Roosters, and in the process ended St George Illawarra’s premiership dreams.
Key moment 1: Air Jordan
57.59 - Damien Cook, who was proving hard to contain on the back of quick play-the-balls and some tiring Dragons forwards, plays the ball to Cody Walker inside the Dragons half on the last. The Dragons lead 10-8.
58:01 - Adam Reynolds puts up a bomb that doesn’t go the intended distance, coming down 28 metres from the Dragons try line.
58:07 - Rookie Dragons winger Jordan Pereira goes up to challenge for a ball that may have been better served being left to Dane Gagai to challenge and in turn provide the Dragons the chance to wrap up the ball carrier without the risk of a mistake.
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Dragons - Finals Week 2; 2018
58.10 - Referee Gerard Sutton blows a penalty against the Dragons after Pereira drops the ball and lands in the arms of offside teammate Kurt Mann. An innocuous bomb presents Adam Reynolds with a gift two points from the ensuing penalty goal. Scores level at 10-10.
Key moment 2: Jennings' jitters
66:30 - After the Dragons withstood several repeat sets, Ben Hunt boots the ball from 42 metres out from his own line and finds South Sydney fullback Alex Johnston on the full.
66:34 - Johnston claims Hunt’s 46-metre kick 12 metres out from his own try line. He runs 10 metres and throws a pass to winger Robert Jennings. Trying to take possession of a ball behind him, he sticks behind his right arm and drops the ball 22 metres out from the South Sydney goal line to end the Rabbitohs’ period of dominance. The game changes completely.
Key moment 3: Unhappy hunting
68:13 - Kurt Mann plays the ball to the left of the posts 10 metres out from the try line. Angus Crichton and Cameron Murray are at marker.
68:17 - Cameron McInnes finds Hunt 20 metres out right in front. James Graham and Jeremy Latimore stand in line with the ruck to impede the defenders. Thomas Burgess puts enough pressure on Hunt to ensure the Dragons halfback is unable to kick the first field goal of his career that would have taken the underdogs to an 11-10 lead.
“There’s 11 minutes to go. It’s very early to be taking a field goal. But I suppose when you haven’t been down here for a while you wonder if you’re ever going to get here again.” - Phil Gould on Channel Nine.
Key moment 4: Reynolds' first field goal
69:22 - Murray offloads to Cody Walker. The South Sydney five-eighth shrugs off Hunt and Leeson Ah Mau and manages to get a quick play-the-ball.
69:29 - Walker plays the ball to Damien Cook. Ah Mau and Hunt don’t make any attempt to move from marker.
69:31 - Reynolds slots a largely unchallenged field goal from 14 metres out thanks to Walker’s quick play-the-ball. The closest Dragons player looking to apply pressure is McInnes, but he is still six metres away from Reynolds when the boot connects with the ball. South Sydney lead 11-10.
"Adam was on tonight. He scored all our points ... very composed. Renno works very hard on his craft. I felt great for him. You get what you deserve and he deserved that tonight." – Anthony Seibold.
Key moment 5: Controversial penalty
71:51 - After the Dragons made 65 metres in just four tackles, rookie centre Zac Lomax plays the ball after a legs tackle from Murray.
71:55 - McInnes throws his pass, intended for Jack De Belin, into Murray who was on his knees in the ruck. De Belin was in his direct line of sight.
71:58 - Sutton blows a penalty against the Dragons hooker for throwing the ball into Murray.
"They made a decision earlier in the year that they were going to stop people from doing it but it’s not really the time to apply it there. Cameron was trying to get that ball to his teammate. He had De Belin lined up and the bloke is laying there in the play-the-ball.” – Phil Gould on Channel Nine.
On May 24, the NRL announced a rule change in which the attacking team would be penalised for deliberately throwing the ball into a player lying in the ruck after teams began exploiting the rule.
NRL head of football Brian Canavan said at the time: "This does not absolve a defender of his responsibilities to clear the ruck and the defending team will still be penalised if it is deemed that they are interfering with play."
Dragons coach Paul McGregor disagreed with the call.
"It was a big important call. The rule as I know it to be is that it’s only a penalty if the passer changes his line of pass and I’m not sure Cam did that. Obviously Cameron Murray didn’t get out of the way so it could have been play on … he didn’t have to get out of the way, he just didn’t have to move, but obviously the pass was in line with someone who was going to receive the ball, which was Jack de Belin. To my liking Cam didn’t pass it down, he passed it flat, so I’d say play on.” – Paul McGregor.
Since the rule change, McInnes has now been penalised twice.
Key moment 6: Frizell's steal
74:47 - Hunt miscues an attempt to put up a floating bomb from halfway, and it wobbles down to South Sydney winger Campbell Graham to collect the ball nine metres out from his own try line.
74:55 - Frizell makes contact with Graham.
74.56 - Lomax joins in to make the tackle.
74:59 - Lomax drops off the tackle.
75:00 - Frizell strips the ball in a one-on-one situation 20 metres out from the South Sydney goal line.
75:03 - Walker and Jennings complete the tackle on Frizell 14 metres out from the try line.
75:08 - Sutton blows a penalty against Walker for holding Frizell down too long.
75:57 - Lomax kicks a penalty goal from just to the right of the posts. Dragons lead 12-11 with four minutes remaining.
Key moment 7: Murray magic
76:31 - Frizell is tackled 40 metres out from his line by Murray.
76:35 - Ah Mau beats Tom and Sam Burgess from the ensuing play.
76:36 - Murray tackles Ah Mau and wraps his arms around the ball. Sam Burgess tries to come in and finish off tackle but backs away when he realises Murray's intention to pull off a one-on-one strip. South Sydney go on the attack inside the Dragons' half.
"It was a game changer. Last week I spoke about the big moments Melbourne won … that was a big moment we won tonight. Cammo to steal the footy – we kicked two field goals in the last couple of minutes after that. He’s been outstanding the last three weeks for us, Cam.” – South Sydney coach Anthony Seibold.
Key moment 8: Reynolds kicks his second field goal
77:04 - South Sydney prop George Burgess is tackled 10 metres out from the line by Latimore, de Belin and McInnes.
77:07 - Murray and Sam Burgess rush to the right-hand side of the ruck to block de Belin and Latimore at marker from getting to Reynolds, who is set up 18 metres out right in front of the posts.
Seibold: It’s has been a tough 48 hours
77:10 - De Belin and Latimore get to within three metres of Reynolds and manage to get a finger on the ball, however the South Sydney halfback still kicks his second field goal of the night to level the scores with 170 second remaining. Scores level at 12-12.
Key moment 9: Last-tackle stuff-up
78:45 - Frizell is tackled by Cook and George Burgess 35 metres out from the goal line. Sutton calls fifth and last as Dragons coach Paul McGregor waits for a kick deep into the corner to limit South Sydney’s chances of kicking a field goal to win the game in regulation time.
78:53 - McInnes finds de Belin on the run. Hunt, assumingly unaware it was the last tackle, was standing wider of the ruck and unable to make what should have been his 17th kick of the night. His halves partner Kurt Mann outside him.
McGregor: 'I'm not going to turn on a player'
78:58 - Mann receives the ball from Hunt and is tackled, forcing the Dragons to hand over the ball 46 metres out from their own line with just over a minute remaining.
"That is crazy," Andrew Johns said during Channel Nine’s call.
"This is no good," Phil Gould adds repeatedly.
Paul McGregor didn’t want to play the blame game.
"You can break the game down a fair bit if you like but that's not for this press conference. I'm not going to turn on a player who didn't make the right decision or anything like that. That's not for now. Going forward it's a great experience for them guys to make sure next time we get that opportunity we make it right." – Paul McGregor.
Reynolds kicks three field goals
Key moment 10: The match-winner
79.36 - Walker plays the ball to the right of the posts with Ah Mau and McInnes at marker.
79:39 - Ah Mau, who was guilty of not putting pressure on Reynolds for his first field goal, chases hard. Reynolds steps back on the inside to avoid the pressure and nails the match-winning field goal on the run from 19 metres out to become the first player since Billy Smith in 1971 to kick three field goals in a final. South Sydney win 13-12.
"A lot of credit goes to the coach. Throughout the pre-season and the season we've trained for scenario-based games and being through moments like that at training. We have trained for moments like that. All our reserve grade boys, the boys that don't play week in, week out, they do a fantastic job for us, putting us under pressure in those key moments.” – Adam Reynolds.