Rabbitohs leave it late to stun Dragons
South Sydney have pulled a rabbit out of the hat to steal a stunning 26-24 come-from-behind win over the Dragons to put a serious dent in St George Illawarra's finals hopes.
Trailing by six points at the break – and with Sam Burges in the sin bin – the Rabbitohs kicked a penalty goal that appeared ill-advised at the time but proved to be the difference as Michael Maguire's men stormed home to claim the unlikeliest of victories.
Ahead by four, the Dragons looked set for a crucial win when some slick hands down the right edge saw Kurt Mann turn provider to set up Nene Macdonald for what looked to be the match-winning try.
Instead, the Bunnies woke up from their slumber with John Sutton finishing off some flamboyant play to cross in the 75th minute before Bryson Goodwin followed suit from the very next set to level the scores.
That left Adam Reynolds with the sideline conversion to win the game, and despite the tricky angle, the star halfback coolly slotted the kick to snap South Sydney's four-game losing streak.
The loss leaves the Dragons in eighth spot on 24 competition points but they could fall to ninth if the Panthers take care of the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
Friday's loss was compounded by an ankle injury to Josh Dugan who was forced from the field midway through the first half and could only watch on from the dressing room as his team imploded late.
The game might have kicked off at 6pm but no one seemed to have told the players with both teams guilty of a flurry of early errors until Dragons winger Jason Nightingale settled things down with the opening try after nine minutes.
The Red V looked to have doubled their advantage from the very next set when Joel Thompson strolled over untouched only for the officials to pull up the play for a forward pass.
The Rabbitohs made the most of that let-off and soon levelled the scores when Alex Johnston danced his way through the defensive line after an over-ambitious Nightingale was bundled into touch to gift possession to the Bunnies.
Some more sloppiness and some hard running by the Rabbitohs saw Souths hit the lead after 23 minutes when Johnston found Damien Cook on the inside to claim their second try of the evening.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Dragons lost Dugan in the scoring play to an ankle injury with the star centre immediately taken from the field and replaced by Kurt Mann, and he was soon followed up the tunnel by Paul Vaughan who had to undergo an HIA that he would ultimately pass.
He might have been denied earlier but there was no stopping Thompson the second time around when the Dragons back-rower flew through the air and produced a grab the Swans would have been proud of to score a stunning four-pointer.
Some razzle-dazzle play from the Dragons looked set to lead to more points only for Rabbitohs skipper Burgess to tackle Tyson Frizell without the ball, resulting in a penalty goal and the Englishman being sent to the sin bin.
The Red V weren't about to waste the numerical advantage and they pushed further in front right on the stroke of half-time when Macdonald batted a cross-field kick into the arms of Mann who beat the swarming defence to score in the corner.
But it was the Rabbitohs who finished strongly in the second half, Reynolds' conversion capping off a remarkable comeback.
Rabbitohs 26 (Alex Johnston, Damien Cook, John Sutton, Bryson Goodwin tries; Adam Reynolds 4 goals) def. Dragons 24 (Jason Nightingale, Joel Thompson, Kurt Mann, Nene Macdonald tries; Gareth Widdop 4 goals) at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Half-time: 18-12 Dragons. Crowd: 12,312.
NRL.com unofficial votes: 3 points: Alex Johnston. 2 points: Damien Cook. 1 point: Kurt Mann.