Two tries by Sharks winger Sione Katoa in a three-minute burst was still not enough to wrestle a win from South Sydney on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.
The Sharks have endured a long losing drought against the Bunnies at ANZ Stadium, not tasting victory since 2008.
And tonight’s 22-18 win by Wayne Bennett’s men continued that theme.
But perhaps Souths could consider themselves lucky. They were cruising with a 14-point lead (22-8) before Katoa’s acrobatics in the 62nd and 65th minute – courtesy of crafty lead-up work from Shaun Johnson and Will Kennedy.
Then a pass from utility Connor Tracey to put Josh Morris over was ruled forward with 90 seconds left in the game.
The small but vocal crowd of mainly Rabbitohs fans was at fever pitch and they willed their side home.
Match: Rabbitohs v Sharks
Round 1 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
It ended up three tries apiece with the boot of Adam Reynolds the difference. He didn’t miss, kicking three penalties and two conversions.
It’s uncertain if the meagre 6,235 crowd was due to a rainy day, the late Saturday afternoon time slot, the venue or the coronavirus scare.
Probably all four, but you would have thought the attraction of seeing Latrell Mitchell in his first NRL game for South Sydney at fullback would bring a few through the turnstile.
He did have a quiet start. His first real touch of the football while making metres, didn’t come until the 21st minute. It was appreciated by the small crowd with a hearty cheer going up.
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Sharks
But the No.1 made his presence felt with a few nifty offloads and kicks, despite being interchanged with Alex Johnston in the 55th minute. It seemed his legs need a few more matches yet to get the full fitness required.
It was more Reynolds’ reliable left foot and Cody Walker’s creative kicking, as both halves worked so well together again, that provided the nucleus of the win.
Souths opened 2019 with victory over the Roosters with John Sutton, Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis in the side. They have won again in 2020 missing those same three stars.
Sharks coach John Morris had his first ‘coach killing’ moment of the season.
With just 42 seconds left in the opening half, and the Rabbitohs reduced to 12 men courtesy of a James Roberts sin-binning, winger Campbell Graham scored in the south-east corner off an Ethan Lowe cut-out pass.
Then Reynolds converted from the sideline to send South Sydney into the halftime break up 16-8, when just moments earlier the Sharks looked to have narrowed the lead to just two points through a Wade Graham try (10-8.)
Reynolds was already playing a starring role scoring his team’s first try for 2020 in his first season as captain.
Not to be outdone Sharks skipper Wade Graham scored his team’s first four-pointer.
The remaining points for Souths came from a Lowe, who after assisting Graham in the 39th minute, scored one of his own in the 48th.
For the Sharks, winger Ronaldo Mulitalo failed his HIA after his head hit the ground hard in a tackle midway through the first half.
It may only be round one but coach Morris has to work on his team's away record. Cronulla lost six of their last seven games away to end 2019, and they start 2020 without a true home ground since they are playing out of Netstrata Jubilee Stadium while their Leagues club is being remodelled.