The South Sydney Rabbitohs lead the St George Illawarra Dragons 24-12 in their clash at Accor Stadium.
Latrell Mitchell opened the scoring with a brilliant long-range try inspired by a run from Damien Cook out of dummyhalf.
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In a huge blow for South Latrell Mitchell came off with a hamstring injury in the 15th minute.
Keaon Koloamatangi took matters into his own hands in a scrappy first half to charge over just before the break to make it 10-0.
The Dragons started the second half the stronger with Moses Mbye finishing off a strong set to dive over and cut the deficit to 10-6.
However the comeback was short-lived as Koloamatangi set up Campbell Graham to make it 16-6.
“That is champagne footy,” Greg Alexander said.
A late Dragons penalty allowed Blake Taaffe to extend the Souths lead to 18-6.
Lachlan Ilias put the icing on the cake with a superb try assist to Taane Milne to seal a convincing 24-6 win.
A late consolation try to Jaydn Su’A against his old club made the score a little more respectable.
Here are the key takeaways from the match.
COOK ANSWERS CRITICS WITH STUNNING DISPLAY
Damien Cook has copped his fair share of criticism for his lack of a running game to start the season, but he put it to bed with a masterclass against the Dragons.
Cook had two darting runs in the opening exchanges to put the Dragons on the back foot from the get go and he set up the first try for Latrell Mitchell and didn’t look back.
“What a stunning South Sydney try,” Dan Ginnane said on Fox League.
“Cook tearing them apart in the first six minutes and they have kept that alive majestically.
“Two huge runs from Cook. The first one on the back of a lighting quick Cameron Murray play-the-ball. And that one off the Jai Arrow offload.”
Greg Alexander lauded Cook’s impact out of dummyhalf that set the tone for the Rabbitohs, who put their slow start to the season in the rear vision mirror.
“Damien Cook made a slow start to the season because his running game was quelled by the opposition in the couple of early games against the Broncos and Storm,” Alexander said.
“But already twice today he has opened up the Dragons. He gets passed a diving Ben Hunt and Moses Mbye.
“Look at the footwork how he beat Andrew McCullough. Too quick for both Hunt and Mbye. They got a bit of him but not enough.”
Cooper Cronk and Benji Marshall both praised Cook for his energy and decisive running game out of dummyhalf.
“Damien Cook was outstanding in the first half,” Cronk said.
“His run set up the move down the left flank for Latrell Mitchell’s try.”
“Damien Cook had probably the best game I have seen from him to start the season,” Marshall added.
“His running game has been on point through the middle.
“He set up the first try with a great run and a nice little touch of hands.”
Cook finished with 111 run metres, six tackle busts, a linebreak, a try assists and 35 tackles in an all-round performance for Souths.
DRAGONS’ WORRYING ACHILLES HEEL EXPOSED AGAIN
The Dragons came into the contest with the worst defensive record in the competition and despite an improved performance their main problems remain.
The Dragons were dominated around the ruck with Souths marching them for big metres almost every set.
Greg Alexander noted their defensive deficiencies after the first try to Latrell Mitchell.
“Worrying signs through the middle for the Dragons,” Alexander said.
“It has been their Achilles heel this season.
“They gave up 36 points in the second half against the Eels.
“They have the worst defensive record in the competition through the opening four rounds.”
James Hooper noted Anthony Griffin would be furious with his side’s lack of energy and line speed in the middle third of the field.
“It is the Dragons’ middle third of the field and that Souths were so easily able to penetrate that will have alarm bells blaring for coach Anthony Griffin,” Hooper said.
“They have leaked half their tries this year through the middle third of the field.
“It is their middle defence that is causing major issues.”
ORIGIN BOLTER SHINES FOR SOUTHS
The NSW Blues forward pack is a tough one to break into, but Souths enforcer Keaon Koloamatangi has a good a chance as any to get his first cap this season.
Koloamatangi has been in and around the team the last couple of seasons and he continued his hot run of form to take the game away from the Dragons.
The barnstorming second-rower scored a try before halftime and set one up in the second just as the Dragons looked like they were coming back into the contest.
“Koloamatangi takes it on himself and he’s over the line and it’s a try,” Ginnane said after Koloamatangi’s first half try.
“Keaon Koloamatangi charges over on the back of a Lachlan Ilias run.
“He gets his fifth first grade try and second this year.”
Greg Alexander commended Koloamatangi for taking the game by the scruff of the neck at the crucial moments.
“Koloamatangi despite three Dragons being around him has been able to get the ball down,” Alexander said.
“He had a night against the Roosters at Accor Stadium. He crossed the line a couple of times and had one disallowed.
“Now scores one just short of the halftime break after the Dragons looked to head to the break just 4-0 down which would have been a pretty good result for them.
“I think he has made a great start to the season.
“Outstanding against the Roosters and he has been very good tonight.
“Any opportunity he has had with the Dragons backpedaling he has taken the ball to the line strongly.”
Benji Marshall, who played plenty of footy with Koloamatangi was in awe of his strength and sense of the moment.
“It was the presence of mind from Koloamangi to get out of dymmyhalf,” Marshall said of his try.
“The strength of the man. He just gets down and wants the footy. He wanted to put it down more than the other team.
“There hasn’t been anything fancy from South Sydney. It has just been off hard work and strong runs and wanting it a bit more.”
Koloamatangi finished with 137 run metres, two tackle busts, a linebreak, a linebreak assist and a try assist to go with 20 tackles.
Both the Rabbitohs and Dragons are on the hunt for their second win of the season as the two face off at Accor Stadium on Saturday.
The Bunnies narrowly went down to the Broncos and Storm in the first fortnight of the competition before beating arch rivals the Roosters. But they were brought back down to earth last week by the Panthers in the grand final rematch.
Meanwhile, the Dragons started their season off on the right foot with a win over the Warriors but losses to the Panthers, Sharks and most recently a thrashing from the Eels has the pressure mounting on the side.
South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou has made several changes to his side — both forced and unforced. Veteran winger Josh Mansour has earned a recall after impressing in reserve grade, while Tom Burgess replaces the injured Mark Nicholls in the starting pack.
Young gun Blake Taaffe returns from an ankle injury and pushes Siliva Havili out of the 17. Demetriou revealed earlier this week that superstar Latrell Mitchell is carrying a knee injury so it’s likely Taaffe will see some time at fullback.
Boom prop Davvy Moaele also moves into the side after producing some stunning numbers in New South Wales Cup.
For the Dragons, coach Anthony Griffin has stuck with the bold spine call he made last week. That means Jack Bird remains in the halves with Ben Hunt and Talatau Amone is on the bench, while Tyrell Sloan is forced to bide his time his time in reserve grade with Moses Mbye at fullback.
Jaydn Su’A returns in time to face his former club.
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