Rabbitohs end Dragons' winning run
The South Sydney Rabbitohs have ended St George Illawarra's six-game winning streak after recording a 16-10 victory, in a game which also saw Josh Dugan guarantee his place as New South Wales fullback for the upcoming State of Origin series.
WATCH: Johnston seals the win for South Sydney
WATCH: Full match highlights
WATCH: Dragons press conference
WATCH: Rabbitohs press conference
The result also meant the Rabbitohs ended their three-game losing streak after winning only their second game in six weeks, South Sydney's solid completion rate became all too much for the Dragons to handle.
Despite the loss, Dragons fullback Dugan played his way into NSW's fullback jumper after recording a game-high 268 metres.
While Dugan made his way back from a knee complaint, it was the Rabbitohs who finished the game with 15 men after John Sutton (eye) and Chris Grevsmuhl (concussion) failed to see out proceedings.
Following the game, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire expressed his delight at his side's improved defensive effort.
"I actually thought they threw a fair bit at us throughout the game. I'm pleased to see the boys show that resiliency in the second half and defend the line the way we did," Maguire said.
"I think St George [Illawarra] have been leading the way in a lot of areas and I said prior to the game they have been defending extremely well. It was good to score the points but then we had to defend well too and they had play after play so our boys kept having to find a way to repel them."
The Rabbitohs were buoyed by the return of halfback Adam Reynolds who remained a calming influence on his team throughout the contest.
In fact, it was Reynolds who would get the game's scoring underway with a successful penalty conversion after a penalty was handed down by referee Matt Cecchin, Dragons prop Mike Cooper punished for accidentally slapping Sutton in the face.
The referees made amends when a Rabbitohs penalty allowed Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop to equal the ledger at 2-all in the 11th minute.
The first try of proceedings came eight minutes later when Widdop benefited from a swift line break from winger Peter Mata'utia – who sliced his way past Reynolds and Dylan Walker before drawing Inglis in – for Widdop to race away.
The Rabbitohs drew level in the 34th minute when winger Aaron Gray crossed out wide thanks to a magical pass from fullback Greg Inglis on a backline shift, in what was also Gray's first NRL try.
The Dragons weren't done in the first half though and with just two minutes remaining before half-time, halfback Benji Marshall stepped up to plate and threw a lovely ball for winger Jason Nightingale to cross out wide.
The Rabbitohs made up for their four-point halftime deficit when they hit the lead through Gray's second try of the match in the 47th minute, after the winger easily pushed his way past Nightingale to cross in the corner.
South Sydney went back-to-back in the 58th minute when Alex Johnston capitalised for the home team. With some questionable penalties awarded to the Rabbitohs, Johnston's try – a typical backline movement to the flank – saw them finally score after four consecutive sets attacking the Dragons line. Johnston's try would also prove the match-winner in the Rabbitohs' tight six-point win.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 16 (Aaron Gray 2, Alex Johnston Tries; Adam Reynolds 2 Goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Gareth Widdop, Jason Nightingale Tries; Gareth Widdop Goal) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 14,126. Half-time: 10-6.