St George Illawarra’s season is hanging by a thread after a late capitulation handed South Sydney a 26-24 win at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday night.
The Dragons led 24-14 with five minutes remaining after a Nene Macdonald try appeared to seal victory. But a miraculous try to John Sutton in the 75th minute was followed by Souths going the length of the field in their next set, with Bryson Goodwin diving over in the corner to give Adam Reynolds the chance to win the game from the sideline.
Reynolds’ lived out every goalkicker’s dream, icing the conversion from on the touchline with two minutes remaining to hand the Rabbitohs a memorable victory.
The result leaves St George Illawarra fighting for their season. The Dragons, who led the competition midway through the year, could slip out of the top eight for the first time in 2017 if in-form Penrith beat the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
It was a scrappy start to the match before the Dragons took the lead after 10 minutes through veteran winger Jason Nightingale. The Renown United junior strolled over from a delightful Gareth Widdop cutout pass to score his 13th try of the season.
The Dragons went close again two minutes later only for a Joel Thompson try to be chalked off for a Widdop forward pass.
It was a double hit for the Dragons, as Souths went down the other end almost immediately to level the scores. Nightingale did well to defuse a Reynolds bomb but overplayed his hand. In trying to make a break down field, Nightingale was bundled into touch 10 metres out from his own line.
The Dragons were immediately punished from the next set, with the NRL’s leading try scorer Alex Johnston adding to his tally.
St George Illawarra lost Paul Vaughan to a head-injury assessment after 17 minutes before Souths took the lead midway through the half. A Johnston inside ball found Damien Cook, with the rake showing good strength to barge over.
It was during that play that the Dragons lost Josh Dugan to an ankle injury, with the NSW and Australia representative unable to return.
The Dragons were back level after half an hour on the back of a great run and offload from Tyson Frizell. The NSW back-rower, who started from the bench, found Matt Dufty with the young fullback showing his electric speed to slice through into the Rabbitohs’ half. His pass to Widdop was knocked down by Souths but from the next set Josh McCrone found Thompson with a crossfield kick, with the back-rower crashing over awkwardly to score.
St George Illawarra regained the led moments later. Jacob Host made a break and looked to put Frizell under the posts with an offload, only for Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess to tackle Frizell without the ball. Burgess was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, with Widdop’s penalty goal putting the Dragons 14-12 in front.
But the hosts weren’t done, with the Dragons making the most of their numerical advantage to take an 18-12 lead to half-time. A McCrone crossfield kick found Macdonald, who tipped the ball back for Kurt Mann who tip-toed his way down the touchline to score in the corner.
Reynolds reduced the deficit to 18-14 with a penalty goal five minutes into the second half, only for Macdonald’s try with 10 minutes remaining looking like sealing the valuable competition points for the Dragons.
Credit to Souths, even with their season over the Rabbitohs refused to put the cue in the rack. The win won’t do much in terms of their campaign but it could have a massive bearing on St George Illawarra’s. After last weekend’s morale-sapping loss to Newcastle, another defeat for a team desperately chasing a finals berth to a side whose season is over will have alarm bells ringing.
The Dragons host the Gold Coast at Kogarah on Saturday before a tough trip to Brisbane to face the Broncos before a potential play-off for a finals place against Penrith.
St George Illawarra look a shadow of the team that dominated the early months of the competition. The Red V need to find their mojo. And quickly.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 26 (Alex Johnston, Damien Cook, John Sutton, Bryson Goodwin tries. Adam Reynolds five goals)
St George Illawarra Dragons 24 (Jason Nightingale, Joel Thompson, Kurt Mann, Nene Macdonald tries. Gareth Widdop four goals)
at the Sydney Cricket Ground
Leader man of the match: Alex Johnston (Rabbitohs)
Dragons’ next three: Titans (home), Broncos (away), Panthers (away)