Rabbitohs v Dragons: Five key points
The Dragons produced their highest team score of the season but it wasn't enough to stop a sloppy Rabbitohs side running away with a 34-24 win.
Reynolds ready for Origin
Adam Reynolds' controlled kicking game was arguably the difference between the two teams. He made life tough for the Dragons' backs all night, laid on three tries from kicks and helped force three line drop outs as he continues to build his form since returning from a broken jaw a month ago.
With whispers getting stronger that he may finally break through for an Origin debut in 2016, he could have picked no better time to produce such an assured and controlling performance. His high kicks and attacking cross-field kicks repeatedly came down just outside his opponents' try-line, allowing his own chasers momentum on their path to the Dragons' in-goal while denying the Red V catchers any chance of a 20-metre restart even if they did take the mark.
He punted for a match-high 401 metres and also made 21 tackles for just one miss.
After the game his coach Michael Maguire and his skipper Greg Inglis – who he will find himself opposing on June 1 if he is called up by Blues coach Laurie Daley – were happy to sing his praises.
"He's been great over the last few weeks. Obviously came off the back of the jaw and he's starting to build his game now," Maguire said.
"You can see the boys get a lot of confidence when he's up over the ad[vantage] line and kicking like he is, he builds a lot of pressure on the opposition when he kicks the way he does."
Inglis added Reynolds would be capable of handling the Origin arena.
"Over the last month Reyno's really lifted his game without a doubt. I'm no selector and whatever NSW decide to do that's what they've got to decide on but I think Reyno moving forward is very capable of handling the Origin arena and the way he's handled himself over the past month after coming back from his injury, he's definitely one to keep an eye out for."
Blues given another headache as Dugan goes down hurt
With possible NSW fullback James Tedesco already unavailable with a fractured shoulder blade, the last thing Laurie Daley needed was incumbent fullback and guaranteed starter Josh Dugan to pick up an injury.
An awkward challenge in the Dragons' in-goal saw his left elbow bend awkwardly when Paul Carter landed on it in attempting to score a try and he stayed down for some time needing attention.
While he finished the game with the elbow heavily strapped, it was on ice afterwards and the club wasn't immediately sure of the extent of the possible damage – though Dragons coach Paul McGregor didn't appear too concerned.
"He's wrapped up there in ice. He's a resilient bugger, he'll be back. He'll be okay," McGregor said.
"He finished the game. I just asked him then and he's just in ice, precautionary but I'm sure he'll be okay. A couple of bigger games coming up."
Bunnies fight back from early errors
Early on in the game, so generous were Souths in inviting the Dragons up to their end of the field it's a wonder the Red V didn't arrive to find canapés and glasses of champagne waiting for them.
Cold drops from Tom and Sam Burgess and Adam Reynolds (contributed by poor passes and offloads in some cases), made up the early collapse but Sam Burgess added another drop inside the first 20 minutes, Bryson Goodwin was penalised while defending his line and lucky not to be sin-binned for a professional foul.
Somehow the team only conceded four points in the initial onslaught and managed to level up in the 13th minute the first time they got in range, although they made life hard for themselves.
"I have a lot of trust in my players and I know what they're capable of doing and we were working hard defensively after those errors to be able to keep themselves in the game but that's one area we definitely need to look at moving forward," Maguire said.
"But the players were able to find a way to get themselves back in control of the game. At half time we were below 50 per cent completion so if they're able to get their completions up and put a lot more pressure on the opposition we become a better team again."
McGregor unhappy with calls
It was one of those nights where the 50-50 calls seemed to fall more in favour of one side, and while not blaming the officials for the result McGregor said he would be raising some issues with the NRL next week.
In particular, a double whammy where Josh Dugan was dragged over the sideline despite appearing to be tackled was followed up by the review officials overturning an on-field no-try call to award Paul Carter a try, with the Dragons of the view Dugan had grounded the ball first.
After making reference to some decisions, McGregor said it was more what happened in the lead-up that he was unhappy with rather than the try call itself.
"Like, [they] dropped the ball cold and [we were] penalised for a strip. Duges got the ball down and then [dragged] over the sideline. There's a few things in that game that I wasn't real happy about and I'll be letting them know."
Walker a surprise star at fullback
The absences of three-quarters Hymel Hunt (pec), Michael Oldfield (hamstring) and Aaron Gray (knee) forced Maguire to turn to creative solutions in his backline this week.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Maguire named journeyman five-eighth Cody Walker on the wing in Tuesday's team list, with most pundits predicting Walker would in fact play in the halves with Greg Inglis moving to the backline, or Walker shifting to the centres with Alex Johnston again at fullback.
Instead it was the 26-year-old Casino product who suited up at fullback for the first time since he was a teenager, and he made a mighty fine fist of it.
The highlight was a creative solo try in the shadows of half-time where he grubbered ahead for himself but his positional play was good, his fitness seemed to keep up with the extra kilometres required, he had some great kick returns and his support play was also on the money.
He finished the night with 138 metres from a joint match-high 18 runs, plus four tackle breaks and a line break.
Maguire said he'd wanted to keep Inglis at five-eighth and was confident Walker could do the job.
"We're still evolving. Unfortunately we've gone through a patch where we've had a few injuries but it's great to see that whoever we bring in is playing their part for the team," he said.
"I was keen to keep Greg at five-eighth and he's been doing a great job there for us. To have Cody go back to fullback, he did a great job there for us as well, he scoops up some ball on the run and he's very confident in what he does so it's something we'll keep evolving with."