It took them a while but St George Illawarra finally brushed off a gallant South Sydney, the NRL premiers prevailing 16-0 in a uninspiring contest at ANZ Stadium.
Showing the grit and patience that was a hallmark of their premiership run last year, the Dragons had to wait until a Darius Boyd try 13 minutes from time to see off the Bunnies, with Mark Gasnier’s four-pointer five minutes later sealing the result.
The Dragons held a slender 2-0 lead before Boyd’s breakthrough effort in a scoreline which had commentators reaching for the record books and fans wishing they were next door at the Easter Show.
The late blowout was not what the Rabbitohs deserved for what was a tough defensive effort, and in fact it was the men in red and green who looked more likely to score for much of the contest before the last onslaught.
But highlighting the problems facing coach John Lang, the Bunnies just couldn’t get on the board.
While Matt Cooper played a leading role in Boyd’s try, it was his defensive display in the 54th minute that may have been the match-winner as he held Chris McQueen up over the line.
The Rabbitohs continued to attack and benefited from four restarts of the tackle count as the visitors tried desperately to interrupt their raids, but Lang was left livid on the sideline when Rhys Wesser missed the last restart as he kicked the ball away on the first tackle.
Given a sniff, the Dragons finally cracked the Rabbitohs on the left edge, Cooper striding through and beautifully positioning Boyd for his fifth try of the year.
That rocked the Bunnies, who had given so much to that point, and it was no surprise when the Dragons raced over again, this time Ben Creagh offloaded for Gasnier to put the game beyond reach.
There was little evidence of the stalemate to come when Dave Tyrell broke through after only nine minutes and slammed the ball down as he reached out for the line but replays showed the rugged backrower was centimetres short.
It seemed a shock play when Soward took a penalty goal on 12 minutes when Roy Asotasi was found to be lying in the play the ball, but it was worth it.
Bunnies lock Michael Crocker was placed on report for a lifting tackle on Jason Nightingale, but that was one of few moments of action in a dour first period.
Copper struggled to recall his stunning effort to deny McQueen.
“I knew he was lunging out at the line and I was just trying to stop him scoring,” Cooper said.
“I’d need to see it, I don’t really know what happened. I just pulled him up.”
Dragons coach Wayne Bennett applauded his side’s resilience when forced into some desperate situations by a Souths side who refused to quit.
“In terms of a purist’s game it probably wasn’t everything you wanted, but in terms of effort and both teams doing their best to win a game of football it was outstanding,” Bennett said.
“If they (Souths) turn and want to play like they did tonight then they are extremely difficult to beat.
“They wanted to show everybody how good they could be and they were very good.”
That was little consolation for Lang however, with his Bunnies showing just two wins from the opening six rounds.
“We tried the shock tactic just about every time so the shock goes out of it after a couple of times,” Lang said of his side’s lack of patience.
“We had our opportunities but we couldn’t get the points on the board and they did.
“Some of our attack was outstanding and they (the Dragons) are an unbelievably resilient side.”