Manly next as Dragons bury Rabbits

St George Illawarra will tackle a struggling Manly outfit in Sunday's fourth qualifying final after crushing South Sydney's play-off dreams at WIN Jubilee Oval last night.The Dragons rested five players for the game, but a first-half hat-trick to second-rower Ben Creagh meant they collected the J J Giltinan Shield in style with a 38-24 win in front of a sell-out crowd of 18,274.The Rabbitohs needed to win the game by five points to qualify for the play-offs after being handed a lifeline when the Bulldogs produced a stunning upset against Manly yesterday afternoon.

  • Full coverage of the Dragons Canterbury's victory also ensured the minor premiers avoided a showdown with bogey side Canberra next weekend.But even without captain Ben Hornby, playmaker Jamie Soward and forwards Jeremy Smith, Trent Merrin and Dean Young, the Dragons buried the Bunnies.Amid the scenes of wild celebration at their second successive minor premiership, coach Wayne Bennett said the team still had the challenge ahead of them in pursuit of the supreme title."We've just got to wait and see," he said. "See whether we've learned anything, whether we've improved and learned anything from last year or not."Stand-in captain Matt Cooper praised the Dragons for their stunning start, but said they could still improve after conceding three second-half tries."Benny Creagh was on fire there - three tries," Cooper said. "It was a great start, but we could have defended a bit better in the second half."The Dragons raced to a 26-6 half-time lead. Creagh's first try came just six minutes in when he scored on the end of some agile tightrope walking down the left touchline from Brett Morris and Cooper.By the 18th minute Creagh had crossed for three, the beneficiary of a bomb and an off-load from Nathan Fien, playing at halfback in place of Hornby, who withdrew with a hand injury.Winger Fetuli Talanoa renewed Souths' hopes when he dashed over on the end of a sharp cut-out pass from hulking second-rower Dave Taylor, but Morris cancelled it out shortly after with a spectacular diving effort to notch up his 20th try of the season.It was a remarkable 40 minutes, considering Soward pulled out with a calf strain, while Smith, Young and Merrin were all rested.Fullback Darius Boyd inflicted more pain on Souths after the break when he barged his way over to extend the advantage.The try came just moments before talented Wagga Wagga junior Cameron King made his debut off the bench to replace retiring hooker Luke Priddis.St George Illawarra's only concern is centre Beau Scott's being placed on report for a late shot on Souths halfback Chris Sandow.Putting pressure on a Sandow kick, Scott appeared to make minimal contact to the halfback's cheek.Souths made a belated comeback, with replacement Jamie Simpson and centre Dylan Farrell scoring to reduce the margin.But their season's destiny had already been sealed.Cooper finally registered his 100th try of the season, bizarrely scoring on the end of Jarrod Saffy headbutting the ball after he got in the way of Fien's cut-out pass.The four-pointer puts Cooper equal with Nathan Blacklock as the joint-venture club's leading try scorer.Souths' loss allowed Manly to cling to eighth place, though they will be sweating on the match review findings for centre Steve Matai, Chris Bailey and Jason King, as well as the fitness of Anthony Watmough from yesterday's Canterbury calamity.While the Rabbitohs are out of the running, South Sydney coach John Lang said he expected the Dragons to win the title."Yeah, I'd be putting my money on them," he said. "They're a top-class professional side."We weren't great tonight, but I think they showed some real spark. They're favourites to win the comp and they deserve to win it, but it doesn't work that way, you've still got to do it on the day."TAB Sportsbet reacted to the Dragons' win by tightening their premiership price in to $2.75. Manly are outsiders at $34.

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