St George Illawarra’s tenuous grip on the NRL top eight weakened even further on Friday as South Sydney stormed home with two tries in the last six minutes to steal a memorable 26-24 win at the SCG.
And in a double blow for the free-falling Dragons, n World Cup hopeful Josh Dugan failed to see out the game with what appears to be a potentially season-ending syndesmosis injury to his left ankle.
Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds nailed a sideline conversion with less than four minutes left in front of just 12,312 fans at a cavernous SCG, after John Sutton and then Bryson Goodwin scored late tries to steal a fourth-straight win against their fierce rivals.
There was drama littered throughout the thrilling contest, none more so than late in the first half when Sam Burgess was sin-binned after tackling Tyson Frizell without the ball when the back rower looked certain to score.
Jacob Host threw a pass back in to a flying Frizell who was denied an opportunity to catch the football with Burgess having grabbed the player too early.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor, facing a $10,000 fine for criticising the referees in last weekend’s loss to the bottom-placed Knights, refused to be drawn on the incident other than to say Frizell probably would’ve scored if he’d caught it. McGregor was more disappointed with how his side managed to throw away an 11th win of the year.
“Tonight’s loss is as disappointing as last week’s,” McGregor said. “We lost the game tonight. When you’re up by 10 with 10 to go you don’t lose games.
“There was a couple of defensive misses during the game. We haven’t played a real solid 80 minutes for a while now.
“What’s disappointing is we scored a try and the next set they went 80 metres to score off that set. It shouldn’t happen in any time of the game but it was a really important period with five or six minutes to go. We’ve got to be more resilient than that.”
The Dragons remain in eighth spot for the moment, but Penrith will leapfrog them into the finals standings should they down the Wests Tigers as expected on Sunday.
That would mean McGregor’s side no longer has their fate in their hands, with games against Gold Coast, Brisbane, Penrith and Canterbury still to come.
And the injury news could get worse for the Dragons after Russell Packer was ruled out late with a knee injury, and Frizell clearly still carrying painful niggles suffered throughout the Origin period.
He was only introduced from the bench midway through the first half and managed just 38 minutes for the night, and crucially was off the field when the Rabbitohs mounted their late fightback.
“Tys is still carrying a few leftover injuries from around that Origin period,” McGregor said.
“He really changed the momentum of the game when he came onto the field, he straightened us up and he got a couple of late offloads which caused a little bit of fracture to the D line.
“He needed a spell there, he came back on again, and he got a little injury towards the end of the game, that’s why he was replaced.”
Souths suffered their own late injury blow when winger Robert Jennings was ruled out late on Friday night with a knee problem.
That prompted Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire to draft in 18-year-old Campbell Graham, who had been studying for his trial HSC exams.
“About 11.30 I called him I said mate I’m calling you into first grade,” Maguire said.
“He nearly fell through the phone he was that excited. Campbell’s been around our senior players quite a bit and I just felt he was going to be the right man to do the job.
“For a young man to come in like that, it was outstanding. He’s a great level-headed kid and he’s probably back to the study books tomorrow and he’s got his [trial] HSC exams next week.”