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As the sun was setting over 9,133 NRL supporters, a returning Greg Inglis ran onto the paddock with his side before it received the opening kick-off in the 35th Charity Shield match.
After a disciplined start in which both sides completed their opening sets, the claret and red gave the Dragons an early opportunity that was taken with both hands.
A set piece in attacking territory saw Nene Macdonald dive over in the corner after he scooped up a wayward pass from Gareth Widdop.
The English sharpshooter added a sideline conversion to his try assist, sending St George Illawarra to a 6-0 nil lead.
The advantage for the Red V was short-lived as Souths hit back through Richie Kennar in the 8th minute, as the winger found himself on the end of an easy, catch-and-pass shift down St George Illawarra’s left side.
Adam Doueihi did a perfect Gareth Widdop impression just moments later, squaring the ledger at six points-a-piece with less than ten minutes in the books.
The free-flowing action continued as 22-year-old Matt Dufty added another four points to the Dragons’ tally with a close range, individual effort.
Greg Inglis took the first 20 minutes to shake off the cobwebs before being given an early shower, tagging in Hymel Hunt to play in the left centre position.
It was turning into a case of ‘your turn my turn’ as Damien Cook catapulted himself out of acting half, splitting the defensive line down the middle before turning Angus Crichton on the inside for the fourth try of the game at the 30 minute mark.
Adam Doueihi wasn’t able to add the extras, pushing the conversion attempt across the face of goals and leaving the score-line at 12-10 to the Dragons.
It looked set to stay that way into half time until South Sydney got another chance inside attacking territory, scoring a carbon copy of its first try – only this time down the opposite edge.
Robert Jennings only had to swallow a pass from Hymel Hunt before planting the ball down in the corner, giving the Bunnies their first lead of the game which would remain 14-12 after Adam Doueihi missed another sideline conversion.
With the first half clock winding down, the Rabbitohs tried their hand at some razzle dazzle inside St George Illawarra’s half which resulted in a cheap two points before the break as the Dragons gave away a penalty in front of their own goal posts and went into the sheds with a 16-12 deficit to overcome.
The feeling out process you might have expected in the opening stanza took place for the first eight minutes of the second half until Damien Cook found a barnstorming John Sutton who only needed to service Cody Walker who crashed over on top of the Westfund logo, helping his side to a 22-12 lead after a successful conversion.
Physicality wasn’t lacking throughout the middle third of the field as the usual suspects – Jack De Belin and Paul Vaughan – were making their presence felt but it didn’t eventuate into points as Jason Nightingale was denied by the video referee after dropping the ball over the line with 25 minutes remaining.
As Dragons supporters were starting to get down to the last of their fingernails, Cameron McInnes found a surging Leeson Ah Mau who put the finishing touches on a strong set-of-six, diving over the try line and bringing the scores to 22-18 with a tick under 10 minutes left.
The Dragons’ attacking raids continued as Jason Nightingale was deemed to have been interfered with by Robert Jennings as he was contesting for a kick – the infringement saw Jennings sin-binned and put Souths under even more pressure to defend its one-try lead.
The set immediately after the penalty didn’t result in points for the Red V and the Bunnies were able to maintain their narrow lead for the closing five minutes, seeing the Charity Shield remain in their paws for the sixth year in-a-row.
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