South Sydney have managed to hold off a St George-Illawarra Dragons outfit that are struggling to kick-start their season, despite the early loss of star fullback Latrell Mitchell, in a 24-12 victory.
It is always a tense affair when these two traditional clubs come to blows and this year should be no different, especially considering the additions to St George’s team and the losses (Bennett, Reynolds) to South Sydney.
However, South Sydney showed they still have plenty of strike – and perhaps a new style of play – when they opened the scoring around the five-minute mark. Damien Cook, who has seemed hamstrung under the Wayne Bennett years, now seems again free to run – and running he is.
Bursting out of dummy half just shy of the halfway line, Cook took off on tackle-busting, weaving incision before getting the ball away to Campbell Graham who did enough to draw defenders and give Latrell Mitchell a golden chance for the first try, which he took with aplomb.
Much of the first half would remain a tight arm-wrestle. Despite the early brilliance from South Sydney, the Dragons were able to gain back momentum at stages.
Unfortunately, though, it does appear to the outside observer that there are levels of effort being dished out by the Dragons squad.
Ben Hunt seems unwilling to trust his other playmakers, often making the vast majority of decisions.
While this has worked to moderate success in the opening rounds, it is clear that Hunt will be unable to drag the Dragons into the top eight through sheer force of will. Tariq Sims, too, is trying hard.
They need more support though and never genuinely looked like getting on top of the Rabbitohs.
With the half almost over, Lachlan Ilias again proved why he is one of the more exciting prospects in rugby league (after a shaky start to life as Redfern’s Reynolds replacement) with a dummying run of his own that would allow Keaon Koloamatangi to bullock over for the second try of the game, extending the lead just before the break.
While the score had not yet blown out, the work of the Rabbitohs pack – particularly in Cam Murray and a rejuvenated Jai Arrow – ensured that South Sydney felt comfortable heading into the break. Dragons, for their part, would be happy to be in the contest, though the body language did not look good from their key men.
Nonetheless, it would be the Dragons who struck first in the second half – as they simply had to when fullback Moses Mbye willed himself over the line with a strong run from 10 metres out after a crazy passage of play to bring the game closer.
St George, energised by the try, would attempt to capitalise on the swing in momentum, but were never able to really crack the South Sydney defence. A run of errors and penalties would mar much of the second half as neither team was able to finish off the other.
Campbell Graham would strike back for the Rabbitohs five minutes later, essentially cancelling out St George’s second-half efforts thus far.
The demoralisation was too much for St George and they were never able to get back in the game. The score might have begun to blow out, but Cameron Murray’s try was controversially disallowed for a questionable obstruction and the match would then settle back into errors and penalties.
Taane Milne would add some more icing to the take in the 77th minute, with Jaydn Su’a earning a consolation try for the Dragons just before the buzzer.
The game would end 24-12. Somewhat respectable for the Dragons, somewhat comforting for the Rabbitohs.
Nothing really learned perhaps, nothing gained. Both teams would like to have done better.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 (Mitchell, Koloamatangi, Graham, Milne) def St George-Illawarra Dragons 12 (Mbye, Su’a)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Cameron Murray (SOU)
2 Points – Damien Cook (SOU)
1 Point – Lachlan Ilias (SOU)