New St George Illawarra coach Steve Price finally cracked it for a win as the Dragons closed out their NRL pre-season with an 18-12 Charity Shield victory over South Sydney on Saturday night.
The return of Ben Hornby provided the stabilising hand the Dragons lacked in their earlier trials, his assured display in contrast to a mixed night for rookie Rabbitohs No.7 Adam Reynolds.
While English import Sam Burgess showed he was ready to make up for an injury-ruined 2011 with a powerhouse two-try performance, Reynolds still has some way to go to make the Rabbitohs faithful forget departed playmaker Chris Sandow.
The Bunnies also face a nervous wait ahead of their season-opener with three players put on report, Eddy Pettybourne for a high shot which ended Chase Stanley’s night after ten minutes, John Sutton for a head slam and Luke Burgess for using knees in a tackle.
It was a familiar tale to start the contest with the Dragons going to the left edge which proved so potent under former coach Wayne Bennett, a Ben Hornby kick to the corner finishing with Matt Cooper going over in the third minute.
The Dragons enjoyed a healthy share of possession, Reynolds doing his side no favours with a line drop-out sailing out on the full with the red and whites crossing on the ensuing set.
Souths didn’t get a crack at the opposition line until the 20th minute, and they made the most of it when Sam Burgess turned new Dragons fullback Kyle Stanley into a speed hump.
The intensity picked up after the break with Souths utilising the power running game they are sure to rely much on this season, Burgess beating five defenders to draw the Bunnies level.
With Burgess’ partner in crime Dave Taylor also causing havoc down the other edge, Hornby was forced to make an impassioned plea to referee Jason Robinson on the back of a string of penalties.
“What are we supposed to do? Look at the size of the bloke, he’s seven foot tall and 120 kilos”
The Dragons regained momentum as Souths’ big men tired, rookie centre Nathan Green losing the ball over the line before former Canberra winger Daniel Vidot crossed for the match-winner 13 minutes from time.