Shannon Meyer reviews Souths’ come-from-behind win over the Dragons to open the NRL Indigenous Round. Here’s how the game went.
|6th||Try Matt Dufty (St George Illawarra)||St George Illawarra 4-0|
|11th||Try Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra)||St George Illawarra 8-0|
|13th||Goal Zac Lomax (St George Illawarra)||St George Illawarra 10-0|
|15th||Try Matt Dufty (St George Illawarra)||St George Illawarra 14-0|
|17th||Goal Zac Lomax (St George Illawarra)||St George Illawarra 16-0|
|19th||Try Cody Walker (South Sydney)||St George Illawarra 16-4|
|20th||Goal Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney)||St George Illawarra 16-6|
|30th||Try Alex Johnston (South Sydney)||St George Illawarra 16-10|
|35th||Try Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney)||St George Illawarra 16-14|
|37th||Goal Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney)||Draw 16-16|
|47th||Try Alex Johnston (South Sydney)||South Sydney 20-16|
|52nd||Try Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra)||Draw 20-20|
|60th||Try Cody Walker (South Sydney)||South Sydney 24-20|
|62nd||Goal Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney)||South Sydney 26-20|
|72nd||Try Alex Johnston (South Sydney)||South Sydney 30-20|
|76th||Penalty goal Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney)||South Sydney 32-20|
|79th||Try Mikaele Ravalawa (St George Illawarra)||South Sydney 32-24|
Ahead of the game, one of the more interesting points heading into it was the million-dollar halfback Ben Hunt moving back to the position that demanded such money. The pressure was on to show he can still lead the Dragons into the eight, and at the expense of their rivals.
The pre-match formalities provided a stirring start to the Indigenous Round, and the first half was played in the attacking spirit that so many of the great Indigenous players were and are famed for, so it was a truly worthy tribute.
It was an exciting first half, and some of that excitement came early in the first half when a poor Souths last play ended with Dragons winger Jordan Pereira running 50 metres down the field before being captured. By end of the set the Dragons had a repeat set; they almost scored with a Ben Hunt-Tyson Frizell-Zac Lomax blind side move that ended when Lomax spilled the ball with the line as good as open from 10 metres. Still, the Dragons looked good early.
The came a key moment: not only the first try to the Dragons, but also the sidelining of the Rabbitohs’ halfback Adam Reynolds for the night (just eight minutes into the game). It came about from a last play kick that ended with a ricochet back to Reynolds, but as he went to dive on the ball he was tackled by Tariq Sims and spilled the ball after receiving what was later described as a burner.
A flying Corey Norman scooped up the ball, ran for 50 metres where he gave a chasing Cody Walker a big “don’t argue”, before he laid on the ball for a supporting Matt Dufty to score. The Bunker checked the contact between Sims and Reynolds and it was ruled OK, but Reynolds left the field and didn’t return for the first half.
Dufty was involved again for the Dragons’ second try five minutes later as he threw a great cut out for Euan Aitken who strolled to the line from 10 metres to double the Rabbitohs’ worries.
And he wasn’t finished yet…
Dufty threw a beautiful cut out pass just inside Souths’ half, finding Aitken who sliced through a gap for 30 metres before finding a flying Dufty supporting again. Not a bad effort to provide a line break assist for your own try.
The Dragons were looking really sharp at this stage, with Souths being being very charitable to their Charity Shield opponents with early errors, poor fifth tackle options and poor execution.
Cody Walker, former captain of the Indigenous All Stars captain, sparked into life just in time to save Souths’ night, as he spun a little magic and opened up the Rabbitohs’ scoring in the 19th minute with a typically jinking run, the ones that saw him as such hot property before Origin I last season.
Souths were denied a try in the very next set when the touch judge ruled Alex Johnston had put his foot into touch with Damian Cook set to score after a blind side play featuring the Souths winger. His foot didn’t appear to go out, and one was left to wonder if it could cost Souths later on.
Walker tried a chip-and-chase close to the line not long after for a repeat set, and while it didn’t pay off this time, it showed he was in the mood to lead Souths from the front and entertain the masses. And it seemed he was thriving in the absence of Reynolds.
The first piece of bad luck of the night happened to Matt Dufty with 10 minutes to go in the first half as the Dragons fullback threw an intercept for Johnston, who looked truly effortless as he sped 90 metres to score.
Johnston was involved again a few minutes later, as a super Latrell Mitchell cut out on the halfway found the Souths flyer who ran for 40 metres down the left side, and his in-field kick found a supporting Mitchel who happily accepted the reward to score in the opening match of the NRL’s Indigenous week. The conversion saw the scored deadlocked going into the half time break, which was needed given the breathless attacking football that was being served up.
Reynolds wasn’t the only one to experience pain in the first half as Cameron Murray and Bayley Sironen clashed heads in the first five minutes, as did Liam Knight and Blake Lawrie later in the half. Cameron Murray and Frizell also ran into each other’s heads during the first half.
The attacking didn’t stop in the second half, and early on Souths got two Set Restarts early to set themselves up nicely with great field position, but a potential try to Keaon Koloamatangi was ruled out due to obstruction.
The Rabbitohs took the lead for the first time in the match not long after when Walker sucked in a few Dragons defenders with a Mitchell bypassing cut out which found Dane Gagai, who found Johnston for his second try of the night on the Rabbitohs’ left side.
It didn’t take long for the Dragons to return to match to a stalemate, as Frizzell chased a third tackle grubber close to the line from Ben Hunt, and he got ahead of Johnston and scored thanks to the Bunker confirming downward pressure with his wrist. The field position was courtesy of a Jordan Pereira break up the middle a set before.
Handed the gift of a halfway scrum after a Dragons error, the Rabbitohs made them pay three plays later as on the Rabbitohs left Bayley Sironen found Mitchell who found Gagai who carved through the Dragons’ line, but fell short after a fine cover tackle from Hunt. It mattered little as a few passes to the inside and Walker stormed through a gap from 10 metres out to secure a double for himself.
As if one intercept wasn’t good enough for Johnston, the Rabbitohs winger completed his hat-trick with another, this time plucking the ball out of the air from a Tristan Sailor pass, running 80 metres to stretch Souths’ lead with five minutes to go. He needed an extra gear on his first intercept with Dufty chasing.
A penalty goal from Mitchell gave the Rabbitohs a 12-point lead with four minutes to go, and only an old, pre-2014 premiership Souths could lose from there.
The Rabbitohs did at least concede once more, as Dragons try scoring machine Mikaele Ravalawa got the best bounce from a Sailor grubber and scored in the corner to make it 32-24 with less than a minute to go. Sadly, the sideline conversion hit the post, denying those watching with a manic last few seconds of a game that had already offered plenty. Sometime you can be too greedy. The game was typified by the Dragons throwing the ball around after the siren despite being an un-catchable eight points down.
St George Illawarra will regret losing their 16-0 lead, as it will make finals football quite hard now. For Souths, it was a welcome return to winning ways and decent football.
It would be hard to argue that most of the match was a highlight, with great attacking football going from end-to-end for the majority of the match. It was great to see Cody Walker finding some confidence and played very well given the extra responsibility handed to him with Adam Reynolds’ departure in the eighth minute. Walker still is one of rugby league’s good stories, after making his debut at such a later stage of his career, but he hasn’t been the same since being the scapegoat for NSW’s Origin I loss last season. He was magic tonight, and shining bright to start the NRL’s Indigenous round.
Walker was not the only star though; Matt Dufty was sensational throughout the game, and in particular the first half, where he seemed to be involved in everything, and at the very least anything good that happened to the Dragons in the first half. It wasn’t all about attack either, as he was bombarded with bombs throughout the game, there were no errors from Dufty. St George Illawarra have certainly looked a much improved side since he has moved to the back full time. It’s a shame he looks like he won’t be among the finals contenders.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jackson Ford. Interchange: 14. Tyrell Fuimaono 15. Josh Kerr 16. Jacob Host 17. Tristan Sailor.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Jaxson Paulo 3. Campbell Graham 4. Dane Gagai 5. Alex Johnston 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray. Interchange: 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Liam Knight 16. Keaon Koloamatangi 17. Patrick Mago.