Depleted Rabbitohs hold strong to down Sharks in season opener

The Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs face-off in Round 1 of the NRL Telstra Premiership

A 15-man South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit has overcome the odds to defeat Cronulla 27-18 at Shark Park.

The season couldn’t have started any worse for the Rabbitohs, with Junior Tatola ruled out for the rest of the game with a concussion within the opening stages of the contest.

Just as Cronulla looked destined to post first points through Ronaldo Mulitalo, a flying Lachlan Ilias used every inch of his body to deny the winger, forcing the ball out of his hand right before he was about to ground it.

It was the halfback again in the thick of things, slicing his way through the defensive line to get on the board and post the first try for the year for the Rabbitohs, and a handy 6-0 lead through the opening passage.

Denied tries plagued both teams through the next passage, as Izaac Tu’itupou Thompson was brought down just centimetres from the tryline and lost possession of the ball after Katoa caught a forward pass just minutes before.

Cronulla was able to tie up proceedings in the 20th minute however, as Will Kennedy chipped and Braydon Trindall finished a brilliant passage of play to tie the scores up.

With the game in the balance, a fumbled possession from Keaon Koloamatangi when the line was wide open denied the visitors a chance to get back in front, just as news came through Jai Arrow was ruled out for the game, bringing the Rabbitohs down to 15 fit men for the remainder of the game.
Keaon celebrates after scoring his first try of 2023

That error was rectified almost immediately, as the classy second rower busted through the line, selling a dummy to the defence to barge his way over from close range to push the lead back out to 12-6 after 34 minutes of play.

Just as it looked like the visitors would take an advantage into the sheds, Sione Katoa scored with under 40 seconds left in the half to tie the scores at 12-all at half-time.

After Mulitalo dropped an Ilias bomb three minutes into the second half, the Rabbitohs had a golden opportunity to strike early in the second half, but it came to no avail with a fumbled possession gifting the ball back to the Sharks.

Cronulla couldn’t get it out of their own end, and Souths made them pay the very next set, with Ilias holding up a beautiful pass for Campbell Graham who waltzed through the line to score with ease and push the lead back out to 18-12.

The Sharks had their own chances to hit back but were denied through the defence of Ilias, and then the Rabbitohs were gifted the chance to extend the lead after a shoulder charge from the Sharks allowed a penalty shot from Latrell Mitchell from 40m out, pushing the advantage out to eight.

When Braeden Hamlin-Uele was penalised for a high shot on Cody Walker in the 65th minute deep in Cronulla territory, the win was all but sealed in the ensuing set with Latrell Mitchell putting Graham into a gaping hole for his second try of the match and the lead going out to 26-12.

A late try helped the Sharks get back to within two scores, but Alex Johnston saving the ball from a Cronulla penalty kick for touch ended any hopes of a comeback

Match Snapshot

Play of the Game

Not long after the break a bomb from Lachlan Ilias was spilled by Sione Katoa, the Rabbitohs made Cronulla pay with almost immediate effect. After two dropped possessions, Ilias again stamped his authority on the game, putting Campbell Graham through a massive hole to score and take the lead back within minutes of the second half. With the Sharks scoring right on the stroke of half time it was important to wrestle back momentum, and the Rabbitohs halfback did just that.

What’s Next?

The focus now shifts to a blockbuster Thursday night encounter with the Penrith Panthers in round two in a rematch of last year’s preliminary final. There’ll be no love lost between the fierce rivals as the Rabbitohs look to make it two wins to start the year.

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