ST GEORGE Illawarra avoided an 0-3 start to the season but a potentially serious neck injury to Rabbitohs superstar Sam Burgess was the major talking point following the Dragons 8-6 victory at a rain-drenched SCG on Saturday.
Burgess was taken from the field on a medicab clearly distressed after attempting to burrow his way over the line in the 51st minute and falling awkwardly in a collision with Dragons forward Mike Cooper.
It was the low-point of a dour clash in awful conditions that ended one try apiece with a Gareth Widdop penalty goal proving the difference ahead of a scoreless second-half that ended in bizarre fashion with Greg Inglis attempting a field goal on the final play despite trailing by two.
The Dragons were dealt a huge blow prior to kickoff with Benji Marshall a late withdrawal with hamstring soreness lingering from his side’s thrashing at the hands of Cronulla last week.
former Canberra half Josh McCrone was given a start in his absence and produced a measured display but the Dragons will be sweating on Marshall’s fitness ahead their round four clash with Penrith next week.
On a tough day at the office Josh Dugan made a strong return to the No.1 jumper with 22 carries for a whopping 210 metres.
The Rabbitohs did little to help themselves conceding an incredible 14 penalties that saw them make 83 more tackles than the Dragons over the 80 minutes and limping to the finish.
The Dragons led early by virtue of a seventh minute penalty goal from Gareth Widdop penalty goal in the seventh minute but it was the Rabbitohs who found the try-line first through Alex Johnston after a bust from Sam Burgess.
The Dragons drew level through Jason Nightingale who celebrated his 200th NRL game by leaping above Johnston to pull down a Widdop kick and plant the ball centimetres inside the touch-in-goal line.
Widdop’s attempted conversion was waved away but he made no mistake when he slotted another penalty goal to give the Dragons a slender 8-6 lead 10 minutes before the break.
Dugan sent a scare through the Dragons camp when he stayed down clutching at his left leg after being chopped in an axe-like tackle from Rabbitohs prop Jason Clarke.
Burgess’s injury 11 minutes after the resumption delayed proceedings for several minutes before Paul Carter strolled across untouched only to be denied by video referee Bryan Norrie who found an obstruction in the lead up.
The Dragons had a several opportunities in the 62nd minute when they forced two line drop-outs and Carter (cannonball) and Kirisome Auva’a (crusher) both landed on report in the space of two minutes but couldn’t turn the pressure into points.
With Burgess and Damien Cook (concussion) early departures and Kyle Turner and Greg Inglis effectively passengers through injury the Rabbitohs couldn’t run the Dragons down.