The Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium in Mudgee was the venue for the annual NRL Charity Shield game between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George Illawara Dragons.
This would be the thirty-eighth occasion that the Rabboitohs have faced a Dragons side in the tradition pre-cursor to the season with honours shared at sixteen wins apiece, five games having been drawn. But the Dragons had a mountain to climb having lost all of the last eight encounters.
For what is essentially a pre-season trial game both coaches Griffin and Bennett named extensive benches, but the 5,000 plus spectators in the ground were delighted that near full-strength starting thirteens were sent onto the park.
Jackson Paulo opened the scoring with ten minutes on the clock when he was at the end of a passing line to go over in the corner in a try made by Latrell Mitchell as he drew the defence to create the overlap. The touchline conversion attempt from Adam Reynolds sailed wide of the uprights, the Rabbitohs 4-0 ahead after a steady start.
Four minutes later and Mitchell was at it again as he flipped the ball to Cody Walker who ran ten metres in open space to score behind the uprights. Reynolds was able to add the extras from under the uprights for a 10-0 lead. The Bunnies were already cruising against a distinctly second-rate Dragons.
On eighteen minutes Walker got his second, spinning out of poor defence from the Dragons off a Reynolds pass to drop to the ground. Even though Reynolds didn’t add the extras for the Rabbitohs it was already clear at 14-0 that they were keen to make it a ninth consecutive Charity Shield win and there was little that the Dragons were going to be able to do to stop them.
Walker completed a nine-minute hat-trick as the Rabbitohs attack again demolished the St George defence. Reynolds again the playmaker with Walker getting another ten-metre clear run to the line. Reynolds found the mark for his second kick of the afternoon for a 20-0 lead.
The fifth try came on twenty-eight minutes, this one with a bit of fortune when the officials appeared to miss a knock on before Dane Gagai took a Mitchell pass and bounced over the line. Reynolds added the conversion from wide and now the Bunnies had one eye on the record books.
The Dragons opened their account just after the thirty minutes as Jack Bird went between two defenders before finding Jordan Pereira to dive in by the left corner flag. The conversion shaved the outside of the upright, but the Dragons were relieved to have points on the board.
Three minutes out from the break the dancing feet of Mitchell saw the inspirational full-back help himself to a try as he stepped out of a tackle and dived for the line. Reynolds smacked the ball between the posts for a 32-4 half-time lead.
Both sides made a number of changes at the start of the second half and both coaches wanted to give their full squad a run out.
The Dragons bombed an early try when Bird dropped the ball on the line and the Rabbitohs marched downfield to take full advantage as Mark Nichols went over on his back and stretched to score. Blake Taaffe added the conversion for 38-4, the Rabbitohs equalling the record points haul that they set in 2014.
Nichols lost the ball on the line a couple of minutes later and this time the Dragons went down the other end with Cody Ramsay leaping to take a high Matt Dufty pass and step past the defenders for an accomplished score. Zac Lomax added the touchline conversion.
It was two on the bounce for the Dragons when Paul Vaughan crashed the line and grounded under the sticks for a typical forward try. Lomax added a simple kick, the Dragons up to sixteen points.
After an almost faultless first half display from the Rabbitohs it was all getting very scrappy in the second.
With ten minutes remaining Keaon Kolomatangi got in on the action as the forwards started to exploit the tiring defences, the big seconds rower powering past the tacklers to ground. Dean Hawkins added the conversion for a 44-16 lead.
The final scoring action of the game was a Josh Mansour try after another nice right to left passing move through half a dozen pairs of hands before the winger went over on the overlap for a walk-in try. The touchline conversion slipped wide of the sticks and the final hooter sounded for a 48-16 Rabbitohs win.
Records tumbled with a ninth straight win, the biggest winning margin, the highest winning score, the most points in a game. The Rabbitohs look in great form going in to the season in just under a fortnight, the Dragons with a lot of work still to do.
Dragons: Dufty, Ramsay (T), Bird, Lomax (2G), Pereira (T), Norman, Hunt, Faamausili. McCullough, Vaughan (T), Sims, Kerr, Lawrie. Subs: Clune, Ellis, Alvaro, Fuimaono, Ford, Merrin, Wiliame, Ravalwa.
Rabbitohs: Mitchell (T), Paulo (T), Gagai (T), Graham, Johnston, Walker (3T), Reynolds (4G), Burgess, Cook, Tatola, Kolomatangi (T), Host. Murray. Subs: Taaffe (G), Mansour (T), Moga, Marsters, Dargan, Sele, Marshall, Nichols (T), Hawkins (G).
Half Time: 4-32.
Full Time: 16-48.
Referee: Peter Gough.