South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds has put on a masterclass, setting up three tries for his side and showcasing a clinical kicking display in wet conditions to help the Rabbitohs draw first blood in 2019 with a 26-16 win over the defending premiers the Roosters in front of 24,527 fans tonight at the SCG.
After trailing the Roosters 12-10 at halftime, the crafty Rabbitohs number 7 took the game by the scruff of the neck, setting up two tries in the second half for halves partner Cody Walker, who collected a Reynolds grubber off the upright to score. This was followed by a superb cut out ball from a well rehearsed scrum play for his fullback Alex Johnson, who slid over to score. Johnson's try sealed an impressive win for coach Wayne Bennett's debut in the cardinal and myrtle.
The game predictably flared throughout, and post Johnson's match sealing try, tempers flared when Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk demanded Souths five-eighth Cody Walker back off from a minor scuffle, which Walker objected to and saw both teams come together for a push and shove. This was then followed by Sam Burgess reminding young superstar Latrell Mitchell what the score line was shortly before fulltime.
It was a fitting setting to kick off the season for both clubs at the traditional home of Rugby League in the SCG, and after the two fearsome forward packs warmed into the match, it was the Bunnies who drew first blood. Former Blues half Reynolds set the scene, when he placed a beautifully timed grubber towards the left hand upright. Roosters prop Sio Taukeiaho got across to pick up the ball, however Rabbitohs young gun Cameron Murray dived over the top to ground the ball and score the first try of the night. Reynolds converted to make it 6-0 after 10 minutes.
The defending premiers hit back for their first try of 2019, when skipper Jake Friend sold a sucker of a dummy to Souths interchange forward Mark Nicholls to burrow over to score next to the posts. Latrell Mitchell converted to even the scores after the first quarter of the match had passed.
A penalty against Taukeiaho for punching the ball out of new Bunnies recruit Liam Knight's hands had the Roosters on the back foot. Souths then made them pay, when dynamic hooker Damien Cook grubbered close to the line, which Sam Burgess read like a book to crash over to score and allow his side to retake the lead at 10-6.
Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell then changed the momentum of the match when Luke Keary put up a cross field kick targeted at Souths fullback Alex Johnson. Mitchell then pulled off a marvelous one on one strip to give his side possession as halftime closed in. The Roosters paid dividends on the Mitchell play, when Cooper Cronk found numbers on the right hand side of the field to find a steaming Mitchell Aubusson who crashed over to level the scores. Mitchell converted and the Roosters took at 12-10 lead into the sheds at the break.
It was all the Rabbitohs in the second half, when Cody Walker and Braidon Burns combined to find veteran John Sutton, who put his winger Campbell Graham over to score out wide and give the Rabbitohs back the lead at 14-12.
The rain had begun to fall and got heavier at Moore Park, and Reynolds took advantage with some superb long range kicks which constantly turned the Roosters around. Reynolds then found success again off the upright with Cody Walker's try and then afterwards sealed victory by putting Johnson over for the match winner with ten minutes remaining.
The Roosters hit back late when Daniel Tupou scored in the corner, however the Tricolours continued to be left frustrated by the rock solid South Sydney defensive line, who turned up time after time and verbally reminded their counterparts who was on top.
It was a superb start to Wayne Bennett's South Sydney career, as they now turn their attention to Round 2 where they will face his former side St George-Illawarra at Kogarah next Thursday night.
The Roosters must now get used to being the hunted, when they travel to Brookvale Oval to face the Manly Sea Eagles next Saturday night.