Greg Inglis is set to lead South Sydney Rabbitohs in their opening round clash with New Zealand Warriors after making a short, but successful return from knee surgery in the Charity Shield at Mudgee’s Glenn Willow Stadium.
The Rabbitohs won 22-18 before a capacity 9,133 crowd, but the main story of the night was Inglis’s return after rupturing his ACL In the opening round of last season’s Telstra Premiership.
The Rabbitohs captain played just 20 minutes and spent the second half watching from the sideline in a club polo but he only wanted to test out his knee ahead of the opening clash with the Warriors at the new Perth Stadium on March 10.
A late inclusion in the Rabbitohs squad, along with backrower Angus Crichton, Inglis played the opening 20 minutes at left centre in jersey No.22 before being replaced by Hymel Hunt during a drink break midway through the first half.
While he made little impact on the game, the Test superstar looked fit and there was no doubt his presence boosted the confidence of team-mates as they fought their way back into the game after a shaky start.
Inglis had his first run with the ball in the eighth minute and although he only made a few metres, the Rabbitohs scored on the next tackle through winger Richard Kennar, who is in line for a starting berth against the Warrirors.
As his confidence grew, Inglis became more involved and he raced to the right side of the field to take the pass from dummy half Damien Cook and run the ball into the defence.
However, he also fumbled a kick from Dragons captain Gareth Widdop in-goal to concede a drop out from his own line.
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Crichton also made a successful comeback after having the middle finger of his left hand amputated following repeated dislocations.
The Sydney Roosters-bound backrower scored a 30th minute try after backing up a 50-metre run from dummy half by Cook.
Dragons winger Nene Macdonald had opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he picked up a loose pass from Widdop to cross in the corner before Kennar hit back four minutes later.
Rookie Dragons fullback Matt Dufty again showed his speed when he got on the outside of teenage Rabbitohs halfback Adam Doueihi to score in the 18th minute but momentum shifted after the break.
The change coincided with Dragons middle forwards James Graham, Paul Vaughan and Jack De Belin being off the field and the Rabbitohs found easy metres around the ruck.
Cook burst clear from dummy half in the 30th minute and five-eighth Cody Walker also made a long-range break after Sam Burgess put John Sutton through a gap in the middle of the field.
Winger Robert Jennings finished a left side shift featuring six passes to put the Rabbitohs ahead for the first time in the 39th minute, with a 40th-minute penalty goal making it 16-12 at halftime.
Walker extended the lead in the 48th minute after a Sutton break but the Dragons forced their way back into the match and were unlucky not to win after winger Jason Nightingale was denied two second half tries.
Prop Leeson Ah Mau scored his first try since 2014 to narrow the deficit and match officials considered awarding a penalty try to Nightingale in the 74th minute after he was held back by Jennings while chasing a kick.
However, they could not be certain Nightingale would have beaten Dane Gagai to the ball so the try was disallowed and Jennings was sent to the sin bin.