With an almost unbelievable 51 players and 10 referees playing their part, St George Illawarra held on for a 12-all draw against South Sydney, as Dragons fullback Josh Dugan failed to finish his second consecutive Charity Shield game.
While the draw meant the Rabbitohs lifted the shield for the third consecutive pre-season thanks to two late tries, Dugan's injury remained a lowlight as the fullback's awkward footing saw him hyperextend his knee, leading to him promptly leaving the field of play early in the second half.
"Josh hyperextended his knee. He tells me he is okay to go to England but we’ll see on Monday when he gets the scan," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
"I think he’s okay. He wanted to play on which is a really positive sign but you never know really until you get that scan.
"He obviously hyperextended it pretty bad."
In what could potentially be a huge blow for the Dragons, Dugan's ailment was compounded by an injured metacarpal in the right hand of forward Will Matthews.
Apart from their injuries the Dragons looked the most likely up against the reigning premiers under the NRL's trial use of the 10 referees, despite it coming under instant scrutiny when the in-goal referee failed to rule that Dragons hooker Mitch Rein fell short of the tryline in the first five minutes.
Initially given a try by referee Adam Devcich, Rein was eventually denied by the video referee – a lesson which quickly highlighted glitches in the new referee system.
After a tough 20 minutes thereafter, there were no issues with Benji Marshall's effort as the Dragons halfback dummied his way past South Sydney defenders Luke Keary and Bryson Goodwin to score the opening try of the match.
In what was an otherwise error-ridden first half and with momentum largely against them, a huge opportunity for South Sydney to level the scoreline in the dying stages of the half went begging as young winger Tom Hughes failed to get a handle on a Goodwin pass despite having no-one in front of him.
With both teams struggling to capitalise on their chances to score early in the second half with the Red V up 6-0 at halftime, they eventually went back-to-back in the 53rd minute thanks to some Eto Nabuli magic.
Only moments after entering the field of play, Auckland Nines star Nabuli was able to get on the end of a Marshall kick and throw it back inside while suspended over the sideline to centre Charly Runciman to make it 12-0.
The Rabbitohs hit back with 15 minutes remaining as rookie back Sam Manuleleua picked up the scraps of a poor Dragons pass and raced 80 metres down field to bring the difference back to six.
Rather incredibly, the Rabbitohs leveled the ledger with four minutes remaining thanks to a surging charge from Chris Grevsmuhl. An Issac Luke conversion ensured the Rabbitohs would lift the Charity Shield for third year in a row despite both teams having their chances to steal the game.
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire was content with his side's draw – adding the Charity Shield to recent NRL Premiership and Auckland Nines triumphs.
"A lot of lessons is one thing we got out of the game, but to see a lot of our young kids and have a bit of a run and show a bit of character was probably the biggest thing we got out of tonight," Maguire said.
Despite the injuries, Dragons coach McGregor was upbeat about the performance of his younger players.
"It was a good opportunity to give them their first taste of NRL football and I thought we came through it well," he said.
"To only let that amount of points in against Souths, I know it's a trial and I understand that, there were some positive signs there for sure."
St George Illawarra Dragons 12 (Benji Marshall, Charly Runciman tries; Gareth Widdop 2 goals) drew with South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 (Sam Manuleleua, Chris Grevsmuhl try; Issac Luke 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 16, 821.