Souths continue Charity Shield dominance
South Sydney have edged St George Illawarra 18-14 to once again retain the Charity Shield which has been in their possession since 2013.
It was a largely scrappy affair with execution and ball handling a massive concern for both sides.
The night was a successful one for the new rule interpretations with the shot clock cutting down on breaks in play while scrums were formed or drop-outs taken, while it looks like a by-product may be less debate around how play is restarted when there is contention over which side took a ball dead in goal.
It took 78 minutes but Rabbitohs bench player Patrice Siolo was the only player penalised for an incorrect play the ball.
A number of new recruits for both sides put their hands up for game time in 2016. Most notably Souths hooker Damien Cook, who was constantly dangerous and close to best on field alongside teammate Paul Carter.
Kurt Mann had a mixed night at the back for the Dragons but was on hand to score one try and saved another with a wonderful one-one-one tackle on Cook. His positional play was good though he did produce two errors.
Tim Lafai did little to suggest he should displace Euan Aitken in the Red V three-quarter line for Round 1 but Russell Packer and Siliva Havili (Dragons) and Hymel Hunt, Michael Oldfield and Cody Walker (Rabbitohs) were all impressive at times.
The first half was particularly scrappy, with a 10-minute period through the middle seemingly completely bereft of a single completed set as both teams repeatedly coughed it up. The Rabbitohs were the worst offenders; despite spending much of the half camped inside Dragons' territory they frequently let their opponents off the hook.
John Sutton – called into the halves in place of Luke Keary who withdrew with a hip injury that he should recover from in time for next week's trial – was one of the worst offenders though he did score the opening try with a strong charge close to the line running onto a Cam McInnes short ball.
The only other score of the first half came when Jason Nightingale showed brilliant skills to reel in a grubber from past the dead ball line and Kurt Mann was on hand to ground it.
McInnes, while solid, was quickly overshadowed by new recruit Cook once he entered the fray, almost scoring one try accelerating with blistering pace to split the line from 30 out and kicking well while constantly threatening with his speed around the ruck. Cook also converted a try from close to touch in the second half to show his all-round value.
The Dragons also looked well-served in terms of their hooking stocks with new recruit Siliva Havili showing some good touches, the best of which was a second half dummy-and-go at the line to beat Cook and score under the posts and earn his side the lead for the first time in the game, 10-6 with 28 minutes remaining.
With both coaches having made plenty of changes for the second half Kirisome Auva'a, with almost his first touch of the game, displayed impressive pace and strength to show up Tim Lafai and Kalifa Faifai Loa on the Dragons left edge, from where Cook converted to reclaim the lead 12-10 shortly after.
Lafai had a quiet night on the Red V's left edge, while Euan Aitken – the man with whom he is most likely battling for a starting spot in Round 1 – backed up a dominant Auckland Nines weekend with some strong charges and a solid night in defence, capped off by a late try.
Another of the new recruits on the park, former Storm centre Hymel Hunt, had a fantastic all-round game both on and off the ball. While he held onto a pass in the first half that may have led to a try and produced an error he proved a handful and his best moment came 10 minutes from time when a skilful offload sent Cody Walker into space.
That set the scene for a right-side shift to be finished off by another new name in Ed Murphy, with Walker nailing the conversion from touch. The Dragons clawed a try back when Aitken was on hand to receive a quality Taane Milne offload on the right touch line to make the final score 18-14.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 18 (Sutton, Auva'a, Murphy tries; Goodwin, Cook, Walker goals) def. St George Illawarra Dragons 14 (Mann, Havili, Aitken tries, Marshall goal) at ANZ Stadium.