Blistering performances from South Sydney duo Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker have highlighted a huge 48-16 Charity Shield win over a sluggish Dragons side in Mudgee.
Backing up from the All Stars seven days earlier and playing his second game since a serious hamstring injury ended his 2020 season prematurely, Mitchell was unstoppable in the opening 40.
He had a try and three try assists while Walker was also electric, bagging an eight-minute hat-trick midway through the first stanza.
Mitchell later said his All Stars exertions gave him the impetus to push himself against the Dragons.
"I got the cobwebs off last week, got a lot of confidence out of All Stars which built this game up for me and I was really happy with how the boys went," he said.
Match: Dragons v Rabbitohs
Round 3 -
Venue: Glen Willow Oval, Mudgee
"The boys went forward and if the front rowers don't go forward and set that platform then Cody and me can't do much ... they ran hard and got the rust off the bodies and set it up for us."
Content with a slick opening 40, coach Wayne Bennett rang the changes, leaving barely any players who started the game on for the second half.
Recruits including Benji Marshall, Jai Arrow and Josh Mansour got valuable game time, with the latter jagging a late try.
For the Dragons, fans will hope the slow start doesn't spill over into the season proper but it was a concerning start to the Anthony Griffin era as both edges got pulled apart and the middle struggled to match it with the Bunnies big men.
Pleasingly for both sides, there were no serious injuries to report for top squad players from their final hit-out before round one.
Set play hands Walker a first-half double
For the Dragons, Jordan Pereira and Poasa Faamausili were both taken off with head knocks and Souths reserve fullback Blake Taaffe failed to finish the game after having his ankle caught awkwardly in a tackle having made an impact with a couple of second-half try-savers.
The Dragons matched up well in the opening 10 minutes with some attacking ball but weren't able to stay with Souths once the Bunnies got some attacking field position of their own.
A Mitchell cut-out ball to Jaxson Paulo netted first points in the 11th minute and the fullback's second try assist with a powerful run and offload sent Walker over for his first soon after.
Walker had his second soon after when a nice left foot step back against the grain flummoxed the defence and he completed an eight-minute hat-trick when he started and finished a long-range movement with Alex Johnston in the 23rd minute.
Dane Gagai benefitted from Mitchell's third try assist to send Souths up 26-0 inside the half-hour mark.
The Dragons finally got on the board through some nice work from Matt Dufty and Jack Bird to send Jordan Pereira over in the left corner but it was only brief respite as Mitchell capped off his powerful first half by shrugging off some flimsy defence to score himself in the 37th minute.
Ramsey dropped what should have been a Hunt try assist over the line to start the second half before Mark Nicholls motored over some poor goal line defence to add to the Dragons' woes.
Ramsey steps back inside
The pair traded fortunes as Nicholls had a chance for a double raked out at the line before Ramsey latched onto a Dufty long ball to net the Dragons' second try at the 50-minute mark to make it 38-10.
Paul Vaughan carried three over the line for his side's third try but the team weren't able to capitalise on subsequent breaks from Dufty, Hunt and Adam Clune.
Instead Kaeon Koloamatangi, one of the only Souths players to continue through the second half after playing the first, powered over to extend the score to 44-16 in an impressive audition for a Souths edge forward role this year.
Mansour crossed in the left corner with two minutes to play as the second half finished up 16-12 to the South Sydney.