An understrength South Sydney almost snatched a late victory against the St George Illawarra Dragons, before going down 36-30 at Kogarah in a thriller.
Trailing by 22 points with less than five minutes to play, three late tries got them back to within a converted try inside the final minute, before falling just short.
In front of a packed hill in the winter sun, both sides came up with early errors, before the Rabbitohs earned the second penalty of the game.
They used it to full effect, marching down field in the ninth minute, with a nice combo between Damien Cook and Lachlan Ilias creating the overlap, before dishing it off to Campbell Graham, with a simple catch and pass putting Richie Kennar over the line.
Both teams had chances soon after, with a darting Cook creating space down the sideline before putting too much on his kick infield, and the Rabbitohs left-side defence defusing the Dragons’ first real chance of the afternoon. Some brilliance from the home side saw them post first points through Ben Hunt, with the conversion giving the Dragons a 6-4 lead after 18 minutes.
A piggyback penalty from the kick-off gave St George Illawarra good field position to start their next set, with Mikaele Ravalawa giving them back-to-back tries.
The next passages of play were completely dominated in the possession stakes by the Dragons, who were camped deep in Rabbitohs territory, before some Cook desperation saw him dive on a loose ball to relieve pressure with 10 minutes to play in the half.
A poor kick saw the Dragons march down the field again, earning a penalty from in front that saw them push ahead 12-4.
Despite having no ball, the Rabbitohs scored a crucial try in the shadows of half-time, with a Dean Hawkins bomb batted back by Isaiah Tass and straight into the hands of Keaon Koloamatangi who strolled his way over to cut the deficit back to four.
The 12-8 scoreline would remain at the break, with South Sydney enjoying just 39% of possession and having to make 40 more tackles.
The second half started like the first, with both teams looking dangerous early on, with the Dragons taking advantage of a dropped bomb from Blake Taaffe, as Jacob Liddle scored to extend the margin to 10
South Sydney quickly hit back on the brilliance from Cook, who ran from dummy half and made big metres. From the very next play the ball was spread to the left, going through multiple sets of hands and ending with Tass crossing the line.
A miscommunication between Rabbitohs defenders on the line proved costly inside the final 20 minutes, as Jaydn Su'a was able to hit a gap from close range to again help his side lead by 10.
It was the goal-line defence that was lacking once again in what proved the fatal blow, as Hunt gave the ball to a rampaging Michael Molo just metres out to crash his way under the posts and take the score to 30-14 with just over 10 minutes to play.
The icing on the cake for the home side came eight minutes from time with a clean break finished off by Jaiyden Hunt.
With time winding down, a late offload from Siliva Havili saw a shift out to Jacob Host, who added some respectability to the score.
Spreading the ball three plays after the kick-off, Campbell Graham broke through the line to put Ilias over untouched and cut the deficit back to 10 with two minutes to play.
It was Graham again who was in the thick of things, getting on the back of some strong play to score and give the Rabbitohs an unlikely chance at victory with a minute remaining.
South Sydney gets the scoring underway as they use a short-side play to put Richie Kennar over in the corner after nine minutes.
An incredible piece of play sees the Dragons get on the board and take the lead through 18 minutes.
Mikaele Ravalawa goes back-to-back for St George Illawarra after Souths concede a penalty early after the kick-off.
A penalty from in front allows the Dragons to push out to a 12-4 lead after 33 minutes.
Keaon Koloamatangi is the beneficiary of a heads-up play from Isaiah Tass to take the score to 12-8 at half-time.
Jacob Liddle posts first points 12 minutes into the second half to stretch the lead to 10.
A big break from Cook sets up a wonderful try off the next paly as Tass finishes off a spread to the left to bring the scoreline to 18-14.
Souths’ goal-line defence was caught out as Jaydn Su’a crossed for the Dragons’ fourth try of the afternoon.
The Dragons solidified the contest 12 minutes from time as Michael Molo scores under the posts to give them a game-high 16-point lead.
Jacob Host scored late after a nice offload from Siliva Havili, before they go back-to-back after Campbell Graham put Lachlan Ilias over the line.
Graham scored on the next set to get Souths to within a converted try inside the final minute.
Play of the Game
Damien Cook scoots from dummy half in his own half and makes a huge break, racing down the field before being tackled just metres out from the line. The very next play the ball goes through the hands and ends with an Isaiah Tass try getting Souths back to within four points of the Dragons.
The Rabbitohs enjoy their first bye of the season with State of Origin game two set to take place on Wednesday week, with several South Sydney players in the frame for selection. Their next game takes place in round 17 against the North Queensland Cowboys on June 25.