The South Sydney Rabbitohs have downed the St. George Illawarra Dragons in Week 1 of the Jersey Flegg Finals.
It was fifth-placed Rabbitohs up against eighth-placed Dragons in a tense, must-win game to kick-off proceedings at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Sunday.
The Dragons started the attack early through a break by Fullback, Cody Ramsey, after slicing into the left edge when returning the football. It took great defence from the Rabbitohs to recover and were relieved to have not been punished by the earlier play.
The Rabbitohs made a break of their own through Josh Cook, who went straight up the middle third of the field, after picking out a retreating ‘A’ defender.
Cook calmly drew the fullback and found a supporting Kane Allan to open proceedings in the fifth minute. Lachlan Ilias made no mistake from beside the posts to give the Rabbitohs an early 6-0 lead.
It only took a couple of sets for the Dragons to reply through Cody Ramsey, after Tyran Wishart stepped his way through defenders to then link up with his fullback. Blair Grant converted the try to square up the scores at six apiece in the 10th minute.
A bounce-back was evident however, when Lachlan Ilias crossed only three minutes later through brute strength and determination. While he was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt, the Rabbitohs had regained the lead at 10-6.
A penalty in the set after points marched the Rabbitohs back up field and into ‘good ball’ territory. Just as it seemed their lead would increase, some great goal line defence by the Dragons stopped any chance of the Rabbitohs scoring in that set.
The Dragons managed to string together consecutive sets of their own which got them back on the attack. They were looking very threatening but an all-or-nothing play from Kane Allan saw him chance his arm at an intercept, and was rewarded for it.
The rangy winger managed to streak down the touch line to bag his second of the game in a 90-metre effort. The conversion attempt was successful from Lachlan Ilias which took the score out to 16-6 with 22 minutes having past.
Moments later there was the turning point of the half when Lachlan Ilias failed to find touch off a penalty.
Instantly the Dragons tails were up but a back-and-forth period saw the points dry up momentarily.
This was until Josh Cook scored a try of his own through a barge over close to the line. The sideline attempt at conversion was missed but the Rabbitohs had a commanding lead with the score at 20-6.
Just as it appeared that would be the final score of the half, Saints replied through Cody Ramsey again who like Kane Allan, also bagged a first half double. It was another great assist from Tyran Wishart who put the deft kick through for Ramsey to pounce.
Blair kicked his second goal of the match to take the score to 20-12 at half time and put the Dragons back into the game.
It was a less than ideal start to the second half by the Rabbitohs when the ball was dropped from the kick-off, which instantly put the Dragons on the attack.
Desperate defence from the Rabbitohs held off the Dragons scoring and a penalty in the set after marched the Rabbitohs back up field.
Fullback, James Tautaiolefua, kept the ball alive on last which eventually found Lachlan Ilias who put a chip through and almost regathered. Unfortunately for them, the bounce of the ball just went dead.
Both teams entered the arm wrestle again before the Dragons found themselves back in Rabbitohs territory through second-phase play.
A pinpoint kick from Blair Grant found a leaping Sam Grant on the left wing for the Dragons, who then planted the ball down in the corner. Grant made no mistake with the conversion attempt from out wide which closed the Rabbitohs lead to just two points at 20-18.
In the spirit of the back-and-forth game, the Rabbitohs hit back a few sets later through Marc Zaurrini. Zaurrini was the beneficiary of a Tautaiolefua assist, after a well-executed block play put the Fullback in space. Ilias converted the try to take the score to 26-18 in the 49th minute.
The Rabbitohs went back-to-back, scoring a solo try out of nothing through Lachlan Ilias a few sets later. The successful conversion took his personal points tally to 16 for the game.
The Dragons built pressure of their own and were breathing down the neck of the Rabbitohs. Their persistence eventually paid off.
Another line break by Cody Ramsey off a kick return had the Rabbitohs defensive line at sixes and sevens and a simple shift to the open side put Sam McCann in for his double.
Blair had a perfect day with the boot but in the end, it was all too late for the Dragons leaving the final score at 32-24.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 32 (Kane Allan 2, Lachlan Ilias 2, Josh Cook, Marc Zaurrini; Lachlan Ilias 4 goals)
St. George Illawarra Dragons 24 (Cody Ramsey 2, Sam McCann 2 tries; Blair Grant 4 goals)