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It wasn't easy, but the Dragons have recorded their first win of the year with an 18-12 victory over South Sydney in the 29th annual Charity Shield at ANZ Stadium in front of just under 21,400 fans.
The first twenty minutes was all red-and-white, with the Dragons dominating field position, possession, and eventually the scoreboard. Tries in the early parts of the match to Matt Cooper (a classic backline move involving Brett Morris) and Jamie Soward (a superb toe through with the little pivot winning the race to the ball) saw the Dragons leading 12-0 without too much effort.
The Rabbitohs refused to lie down with Sam Burgess scoring the Bunnies opener on the back of a complete momentum swing, his side with multiple sets on the Dragons line - which eventually paid off with his bulldozing effort.
The captain for the night added to his tryscoring tally after halftime, levelling proceedings at 12-all before a late Dragons try to Daniel Vidot out wide gave the 2010 premiers the victory many thought they deserved.
The biggest concerns for the night come for the Dragons in the shape of injuries (a concussion for recruit Chase Stanley the main worry), and judiciary process for South Sydney. Three Bunnies will be scrutinised post-game, with Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Eddy Pettybourne all conceding foul play penalties throughout the match.
Round 1 beckons for both clubs - the Dragons open the season at Hunter Stadium against Newcastle on Thursday 1 March, while Souths wait until Monday 5 March to host the Roosters in their traditional season opening clash.
St George Illawarra Dragons 18 defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
Charity Shield - Charity Shield - Saturday February 18, 2012 7:30pm
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Referee: Jason Robinson and Brett Suttor
Video Referee: Jeff Younis and Russell Turner
Touch Judges: Sean Hampstead
Halftime: St George Illawarra Dragons 12 South Sydney Rabbitohs 6
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:
3 Points - Jamie Soward (1 Try, 3 Conversions)
2 Points - Sam Burgess (2 Tries)
1 Point - Jack De Belin
St George Illawarra Dragons (18)
Tries: Matt Cooper, Jamie Soward, Daniel Vidot
Field Goals: Jamie Soward (0/1)
Conversions: Jamie Soward (3/3)
South Sydney Rabbitohs (12)
Tries: Sam Burgess (2)
Conversions: Adam Reynolds (2/2)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Here it is folks, the "unofficial start" to the NRL season. ANZ Stadium hosts the 29th Charity Shield.
Late changes - De Belin to start in place of Dean Young who drops to the bench for the Dragons. For the Rabbitohs, it's Dylan Farrell who'll get his chance in the fullback role, with Nathan Merritt a late withdrawal.
1 min: Match is underway, Dragons with the ball first... they pick up a penalty in the first set and will launch the first attacking raid of the season.
2 min: Weyman (STI) comes within a whisker of the line but the Rabbitohs' defenders stop him. Hornby bombs on the last - TRY Dragons!
4 min: TRY
Brilliant start for the boys from Kogarah & Wollongong. Hornby bombs to the left wing, Morris bats it down backwards for Cooper to dot over in the corner. Soward with a perfect sideline conversion.
St George Illawarra Dragons 6-0
6 min: The high ball in use again for the Dragons, but Dylan Farrell equal to the task this time and field the kick superbly. Rabbitohs with their first possession of the match now.
6 min: HELD UP - Jamie Soward. Superb high ball this time forces a spill from Farrell - the ball tumbles to Soward who surges to the line but Sutton (SOU) holds him up. Dragons with a full set at the South Sydney line.
10 min: Chase Stanley (STI) injured attempting a tackle of Eddy Pettybourne (SOU). He doesn't look well. He's taken off. Penalty Dragons within reach of the tryline.
12 min: Jeremy Latimore HELD UP for the Dragons. No result from the remainder of the set, South Sydney work it out.
13 min: Oh dear, an offload attempt from the Bunnies goes awry, Soward toes it ahead and manages to trap the Rabbitohs in goal. Drop-out. Red V dominant so far.
14 min: Sounding a bit like Gus Gould here - oh dear again. Drop-out out on the full. Dragons penalty 10m right in front...
16 min: TRY
The Dragons have dominated play and the scoreline now shows that quite clearly - a kick through sees Soward pounce on the ball in-goal to secure a try near to the posts. He converts his own try for a twelve point lead.
St George Illawarra Dragons 12-0
18 min: Credit to the Dragons, but it's been a scrappy display from the Rabbitohs so far.
19 min: Oops! Kyle Stanley spills the slippery ball on a kick return. Souths with a scrum just 10m out. Can they hit back?
24 min: TRY
Continued pressure on the Dragons goalline results in a TRY for the Bunnies! Sam Burgess runs onto a ball near the line and it's a huge turnaround for the red-and-green boys! Reynolds converts to reduce the deficit to six.
St George Illawarra Dragons 12-6
26 min: Knock on Rabbitohs as they looked to make a promising break down the right. Dragons scrum on their own 40m line.
28 min: Almost for the Dragons... Creagh's last pass for Cooper isn't taken well and it's a knock-on. Rabbitohs scrum on their own 10m line.
35 min: Dragons near the line and Fien is over.... no it's a forward pass. Souths scrum inside the last five minutes of the first half.
40 min: HALFTIME at ANZ, the Dragons take a 12-6 lead. The Saints have dominated early but then Souths swung the momentum back. Both teams predictably rusty.
40 min: Second half underway with South Sydney to take first possession of the pill.
44 min: Rabbitohs looking the better of the opening exchanges so far, making plenty of metres and pressuring the Dragons through the middle.
47 min: TRY
Sam Burgess barges over after bouncing off numerous players and it's about to be all level as Adam Reynolds adds the extras... he nails the conversion.
51 min: The tribes are becoming restless, a bit of 'handbags at ten paces' for a moment, a head-slamming tackle by John Sutton. Sutton (SOU) is ON REPORT. He joins Eddy Pettybourne.
54 min: Bomb from Souths is no trouble at all for Brett Morris who's playing at what looks like fullback.
56 min: Luke Burgess ON REPORT, the third Souths player to be reviewed by the match committee this game. Dragons make their way up-field.
58 min: NO TRY Dragons, rookie Nathan Green in the corner but just lost control of the ball. Souths ball.
62 min: Relieving penalty for the Dragons with Souths players laying all over the ruck. Matt Cooper is off the field for the Dragons.
63 min: Saints getting a little too frantic on the ball, probably should've earned a second penalty but they lose it instead and it's a Souths scrum on their own 10m line.
64 min: Stunned. That'll do me. Jamie Soward has won that scrum against the feed. Sadly the play doesn't come off - Daniel Vidot forced into touch on tackle two.
68 min: TRY
The numbers have it on the right side. Vidot gets the try he was denied earlier with a simple overlap, and Soward is once again pin-point perfect with the sideline conversion.
St George Illawarra Dragons 18-12
74 min: Great chase by Souths on a downtown kick... but they go on a little too much with Jason Nightingale and force him in-goal after he was called held. Penalty Dragons.
78 min: FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT
Jamie Soward tries to increase the buffer to seven points inside the final 90 seconds but it's wide. Deficit remains 6.
St George Illawarra Dragons 18-12
78 min: FULLTIME at ANZ. Dragons winners of the 29th Charity Shield - their 16th victory in the annual fixture.