The Dragons season has taken a turn for the worst, after a late collapse against the Rabbitohs sees them fall 26-24 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The result still sees the Dragons remain in the eight, but with tougher games ahead and in-form teams breathing down their neck, the idea of playing finals footy could be a distant dream. The Rabbitohs however playing for pride, showed terrific resilience in a comeback win which will please fans and Coach Michael Maguire.
Dragons’ season hanging by a thread
Last week it could pass as just a hiccup after a huge win over Manly, but now it is something very serious. The Dragons collapse in the last few minutes signified their season: A solid first 60 minutes, looking dangerous at stages, but at the end of it falling apart and letting the Bunnies back in.
The Dragons were asleep during the first 20 minutes, suffering double-digit missed tackles as well as coughing the ball up six times. Unable to kick the ball out from a penalty, and continuously giving the ball away in many different ways gave the Rabbitohs a lot of possession midway through the first half, where Alex Johnston had a hand in two tries. The 12-6 lead resembled the Rabbitohs rise mainly at the hand of the Dragons.
The Dragons began to run the ball through the middle with more purpose, a similar time to Tyson Frizell’s arrival on the field, and immediately it worked wonders. Their attacking enthusiasm dramatically rose, and from that they managed two tries and a penalty goal, aided by a Sam Burgess sin binning. Though regardless of their fightback, the Dragons took their foot off the pedal too soon, with six minutes left allowing the Bunnies to run in two tries. An Adam Reynolds sideline conversion put them up by two points, and the Rabbitohs saw out the game 26-24. A woeful Dragons’ threw away the game and quite possibly their season, and now nervously wait the results of the Panthers and Raiders this weekend.
Johnston proves his worth at the back
The loss of Greg Inglis for the entire season prompted Michael Maguire to shift the team around, something he has become familiar with the last 3 years. Alex Johnston at the start of the season, and more recently, was slotted in at fullback with the wings and centres getting a continuous reshuffle. The likes of Bryson Goodwin, Aaron Gray, Braidon Burns and Robert Jennings were moved around the backline, but a winning formula was never established and what seemed to deliver the best results was Johnston and Cody Walker returning to their original positions.
Johnston’s form has been good at the back, and his performance against the Dragons was no different. Alex Johnston was involved early on, scoring the Bunnies’ first try and setting up Cook for their second. He was also prominent in the backline, featuring in numerous attacking plays and running the ball well. Johnston’s talents may have been isolated on the wing, and now only being truly shown with more ball playing abilities. There is a possibility of playing Inglis in the centres and keeping Johnston at fullback in 2018, a selection headache that I am sure Michael Maguire will happily welcome.
Dugan’s injury makes things worse
Regardless of their better performance without him, losing Dugan for a period of time will no doubt hurt the Dragons. The idea of being in the finals in round 12 would have seemed a definite reality, yet now being there is slowly becoming improbable.
Dugan’s been in and out of the side since round 6, and in those games the Dragons have surprisingly won more without him. The talent of Dugan is easily understood, with his terrific ball running being complemented by his solid frame. Although statistically the Dragons may win more without him, coming into September the need of Dugan in the side is higher than ever. High class players always show their true colours when it matters, and having more reliable options like Dugan, Widdop and De Belin in the finals will help the Dragons stay competitive. His injury is expected to sideline him for roughly three weeks, a period of time that will see the Dragons’ fate most likely decided.
Rabbitohs building for 2018
A similar story line occurred, where the Rabbitohs, out of finals contention, strung together some good wins at the end of 2016. With good form, there was a bit of hope that a healthy side in 2017 could appear in the finals. Inglis’s injury crushed any hope of a return to September footy, yet towards the end of 2017 something similar is happening.
Sure it is only one game, but with games against the Bulldogs and Warriors the next two weeks, the Rabbitohs have every chance to take those out and build off some wins. Regardless of their bad form the last two (two and a half really) seasons, the Bunnies have tremendous talent. Getting Dane Gagai in 2018, and bringing back Greg Inglis gives them a strong backline with a great halves pairing, adding to an already impressive forward pack makes the near future look good for South Sydney. It comes down to coaching and determination, and with Michael Maguire and a proud, rich-cultured club there should be no issues.
Tries: Johnston (15m), Cook (23m), Sutton (75m), Goodwin (77m)
Goals: Reynolds 5/5
Tries: Nightingale (10m), Thompson (34m), Mann (40m), Macdonald (70m)
Goals: Widdop 4/5