The St George Illawarra Dragons have scored an upset win to rocket into the top eight on Thursday Night, putting up 32 points in the first half for a 20-point win against the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The poor old Rabbitohs were in it right up until the kickoff, when Lachlan Ilias dropped the ball on the opening play of the match. Souths were able to hold the Dragons off on that occasion, but it wasn't a sign of things to come.
The Red V got a penalty in the fourth minute and put it to full use when Ben Hunt kicked early in the count for Zac Lomax. He beat Campbell Graham to the ball and found Hunt backing up on the inside, who dived in under the posts for the first points of the match.
Despite the first half blowout, Souths had some decent chances at the start of the first half, going on the attack courtesy of back to back set restarts following the first try. Campbell Graham put it down though, and the Dragons once again took full advantage, with Talatau Amone running right past Cam Murray and linking up with Mikaele Ravalawa in support, who made no mistake with the finish.
The Dragons got a penalty on the next set and this is where you started to get the feeling that this was going to get ugly. They looked primed for a spread to the left, but Ben Hunt turned the ball inside for a hard running Jack de Belin, who crashed over the line to make the score 16-0 after just 15 minutes.
Souths challenged the next Dragons penalty but were unsuccessful, and Mat Feagai broke multiple tackles on the first play of the next set. Zac Lomax found himself one-on-one with Graham and beat him before flicking it to Ravalawa, who got past Johnston for his second try.
The Rabbitohs finally got the ball after the Dragons completed post the Ravalawa try, but they didn't put it to good use as Ilias' kick was fielded easily on the full in goal by Ramsey.
The Dragons again went up the field and scored in the next set, with Ben Hunt putting up an imposing bomb kick that opposing winger Jaxson Paulo wanted nothing to do with. That was all Moses Suli needed, catching it cleanly and having a clean run to the line.
St George Illawarra again got a penalty coming out of their own end and again scored a try off the back of it, with Cody Ramsey stepping past Ilias and Paulo on his way to the try-line. The score was 32-0 after just 30 minutes.
It was at that point that Souths coach Demetriou got the hook out for young half Lachy Ilias, opting to move Nikorima to the halves and Blake Taafe to fullback.
With just under 2 minutes left in the first half, Amone was sin-binned for taking Cody Walker out off the ball. The Dragons dug deep and held the Rabbitohs out for the full 10 minute period.
Souths had the lion's share of possession and field position in the second half and were finally able to breach the Dragons defence in the 58th minute, when Damien Cook burrowed his way over from dummy half.
A few die hard Souths fans were daring to dream when Cam Murray crashed his way over the line five minutes later to give the scoreline of 32-12 with just over 15 minutes to go. They went close on a few other occasions and may have been a shout to pull it off if Ben Hunt hadn't intercepted Cook on the goal-line two minutes later.
The Dragons didn't offer much in the second half in terms of attack but they didn't need to; the damage was already done and they now sit pretty in the top eight, and can stay there if the Sea Eagles and Roosters both lose later this weekend. They face the Dragons on Sunday Arvo next round in a game that could end up having major top 8 ramifications.
This was a game Souths really wouldn't have minded winning to go four points clear of 8th position on the ladder, but they now face somewhat of an uphill battle to return to the finals one year removed from making the big dance. They face the Eels next week and need to start banking as many wins as they can considering how hard their run home is.