An improved Dragons side couldn't quite do enough to get past a resolute Rabbitohs outfit at the SCG on Saturday night, with Souths bagging two late tries from kicks to pull away with a 24-8 win. Here are five key points from the match.
GI's big play
After a relatively quiet first half, Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis sparked into life in the second. An early long-range run sounded an ominous warning but in the 72nd minute he produced arguably the biggest play of the game. Souths were down to a three-man bench and had lost their hooker Cameron McInnes to an ankle injury, the Dragons had just scored to get back within four points and were taking over the momentum and starting to make good metres. Halves Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop had found their radar with the boot and things were looking ominous for Souths.
When Inglis had to turn around to retrieve a pinpoint Marshall kick in his own in-goal he was cornered and it seemed certain his side would have to take a drop out and try to absorb a set at their line.
But Inglis was having none of it. The rangy No.1 picked the ball up and stood flat-footed looking at two defenders. Then in a blink he took the short side, put a huge palm on Jason Nightingale, raced down the touchline, put a big bump on Marshall and got out to his 30, drawing a penalty in the process and helping his side in range for an attacking set that finished with a try. It was a huge turnaround and the defining moment of the game.
"He had a number of [big plays] throughout the game I thought," coach Michael Maguire said after the game.
"That one where he retrieved the ball in-goal and managed to turn the game around and run 40. Greg's got the ability to do that quite often for us. It's good to have him in the team."
Dragons put injury woes behind them...
A sixth straight loss is bad news for Red V fans but the good news is a host of injured stars – Tyson Frizell, Joel Thompson, Jack De Belin and Benji Marshall – returned after missing last week (or the last few weeks) and appeared to get through the match unscathed.
"Obviously there's a few blokes coming back – Frizell came back from his back, Thommo with his knee and Benji with his hammy so a few guys that probably need to see in the morning and monitor pretty closely but fingers crossed we've got through tonight and we can build on that," coach Paul McGregor said.
"When players are out for a number of weeks it does take a little bit of time to get that rhythm back going and you don't want to lose them again. You want to keep building on that and we need those guys out there to do that and they need to play regular footy. We're not an overly experienced side so we need to be out there and train hard during the week to train hard on the weekend so fingers crossed they'll be right tomorrow."
...But the Rabbitohs pick up a couple
As mentioned above, stand-in hooker Cameron McInnes had to be taken off in the 43rd minute with an ankle injury, while winger Aaron Gray hobbled through most of the second half with what looked like a knee complaint.
"He had a bit of a sprain in the ankle there, syndesmosis. It's not a major one, but we'll assess that," Maguire said of McInnes.
Syndesmosis tears, or high ankle sprains in layman's terms, can be slow healing injuries and bad ones can put players out for up to six weeks or longer, although if it's minor McInnes may be available in a week or two. His loss will be offset by the return of first-choice rake Issac Luke from suspension next week.
Of Gray, who finished the match, Maguire said: "His body at times gives him a bit of a hard time. I was pleased he fought through that. He'll be okay."
Dragons improve but not enough
With some big names back the Dragons showed a lot more intent than they have in previous weeks, hitting harder in defence, defending their goal line well for the most part, and kicking well. Their kick-chase at times left a little to be desired though, with Souths getting out of jail after a good kick should have put them under the pump.
"I think there was a lot of really good stuff we did tonight and intent was one of them," McGregor said.
"We've been missing some players for a number of weeks and there were some players who were a touch underdone tonight obviously but I though the guys that played tonight played with that intent, that desire and that energy, that's not enough sometimes. What it was tonight was management of the game at important times."
Dragons skipper Ben Creagh agreed.
"I've said the last couple of weeks we've gone away from some things we did earlier in the season and I thought tonight we got a bit of that back which is a good start," Creagh said.
"It's definitely something to build on but like 'Mary' said it's not good enough if we don't get the win. We've still got plenty more work to do but I'm pretty confident we can start winning soon."
A curious penalty kick a mistake for both sides
Souths were looking threatening around the half hour mark when they were awarded a penalty almost 40 metres out and about 10 metres from the centre of the field. Opting against a kick for touch and a chance to start a full set of six just out from the Dragons line, sharpshooter Adam Reynolds called for the kicking tee.
It was a tricky kick from that range and his secondary objective – his primary being to guide the ball between the posts – was to at least ensure the kick went dead so his side would be guaranteed to receive the ball back from a 20-metre drop-out.
You'd think the Dragons would ensure a few players were posted along the dead ball line to intercept the kick if given a chance to regain possession.
Instead they lined up at the 20, Reynolds missed the kick, failed to kick it dead, the lone man posted in-goal in fullback Josh Dugan showed little to no urgency to get to the ball, which trickled dead and ensured Souths would get the ball back anyway. From the ensuing set the Dragons gave up two further penalties, the second of which handed Reynolds a far easier shot at two points, which he took. It was a curious few minutes of rugby league and the in-game commentators were also baffled.
Fox Sports's Warren Smith asked co-commentator Greg Alexander what the Dragons could have been thinking by not even attempting to catch the ball.
"Maybe they thought if they let it go dead – I don't know. That was a strange one," replied a perplexed Alexander.