South Sydney Rabbitohs lead 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 Damien Cook run off the dummyhalf.
MATCH CENTRE: Rabbitohs vs Dragons squads, updates, videos, score
Stream every game from every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership season live and ad-free during play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try it free for 14 days now.
“It’s an amazing test,” said Dan Ginnane.
In a huge blow to South Latrell, Mitchell suffered a hamstring injury in the 15th minute.
Keaon Koloamatangi took charge in a scrappy first half to charge just before the break to make it 10-0.
The Dragons started the second half stronger with Moses Mbye finishing a strong set to dive and reduce the deficit to 10-6.
However, the comeback was short-lived as Koloamatangi set up Campbell Graham to make it 16-6.
“It’s champagne football,” said Greg Alexander.
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 assist to Taane Milne to seal a convincing 24-6 victory.
A late consolation try from Jaydn Su’A against his former club made the scoreline look a bit more respectable.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
COOK RESPONDS TO CRITICISM WITH STUNNING DISPLAY
Damien Cook received his fair share of criticism for his lack of running play to start the season, but he put him to bed with a masterclass against the Dragons.
Cook had two dart runs in the opening rallies to put the Dragons on the back foot from the start and he set up the first down for Latrell Mitchell and didn’t look back.
“What a great try from South Sydney,” Dan Ginnane said on Fox League.
“Cook ripped them apart in the first six minutes and they kept that alive majestically.
“Two huge runs from Cook. The first on the back of a Cameron Murray fastball game. And that one from Jai Arrow’s unloading.
Greg Alexander hailed Cook’s impact on the dummy half that set the tone for the Rabbitohs, who put their slow start to the season in the rearview mirror.
“Damien Cook started the season slowly because his running game was suppressed by the opposition in the first two games against the Broncos and Storm,” Alexander said.
“But already twice today he opened the Dragons. He is crossed by a dive Ben Hunt and Moses Mbye.
“Look at the footwork how he beat Andrew McCullough. Too fast for Hunt and Mbye. They got a little of him but not enough.
Cooper Cronk and Benji Marshall both praised Cook for his energy and decisive running game off the dummy.
“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 probably had the best game I’ve seen from him to start the season,” Marshall added.
“His running game has been on point in the middle.
“He set up the first try with a great run and a nice little touch of hands.”
Cook finished with 111 yards running, six tackle saves, a line break, an assist and 35 tackles in an overall performance for Souths.
DRAGONS’ WORRYING ACHILLES’ HEEL AGAIN EXPOSED
The Dragons entered the competition with the worst defensive record in the competition and despite an improved performance, their main issues remain.
The Dragons were dominated around the ruck with Suds walking them big yards nearly every set.
Greg Alexander noted their defensive shortcomings after Latrell Mitchell’s first down.
“Worrying signs in the middle for the Dragons,” Alexander said.
“That’s 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 in the first four rounds.”
James Hooper noted that Anthony Griffin would be furious with his team’s lack of energy and line speed in the center third of the pitch.
“It’s the middle third of the Dragons field and the Souths were able to penetrate so easily that coach Anthony Griffin will sound the alarm,” Hooper said.
“They disclosed half of their tries this year in the middle third of the pitch.
“It’s their central defense that causes major problems.”
ORIGIN BOLTER SHINES FOR THE SOUTH
The NSW Blues’ attacking pack is tough to crack but Souths enforcer Keaon Koloamatangi has a good chance of getting his first cap this season.
Koloamatangi has been in and around the team for the past two seasons and he has continued his fine form to keep the game away from the Dragons.
The second rower barnstorming scored a try before half-time and netted one in the second just as the Dragons appeared to return to the competition.
“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 on the back of a run from Lachlan Ilias.
“He gets his fifth try as a freshman and his second this year.”
Greg Alexander praised Koloamatangi for taking the game by the scruff of the neck at crucial moments.
“Koloamatangi, despite having three Dragons around him, managed to knock the ball down,” Alexander said.
“He spent an evening against the Roosters at the Accor stadium. He crossed the line several times and had one refused.
“Now score one just before the half-time break after the Dragons looked to head into the break just 4-0 down which would have been a very good result for them.
“I think he’s had a good start to the season.
“Exceptional against the Roosters and he was very good tonight.
“Every chance he had with the Dragons coaster, he drove the ball strongly over the line.”
Benji Marshall, who played a lot of football with Koloamatangi, was impressed by his strength and sense of timing.
“It was Koloamangi’s presence of mind to come out of dymmyhalf,” Marshall said of his tryout.
“The strength of man. He just goes down and wants the football. He wanted to put it down more than the other team.
“There hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary since South Sydney. It comes from hard work and good races and wanting a little more.
Koloamatangi finished with 137 yards of running, two jump tackles, a line jump, a line jump assist and a try assist to go with 20 tackles.
The Rabbitohs and Dragons are looking for their second win of the season as the two face off at the Accor Stadium on Saturday.
The Bunnies narrowly went down against the Broncos and Storm in the first half of the competition before beating rivals the Roosters. But they were brought down to earth last week by the Panthers in the Grand Finals 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 beating from the Eels have ratcheted up the pressure on the side.
South Sydney manager Jason Demetriou has made several changes to his squad, both forced and unforced. Veteran winger Josh Mansour has been recalled after impressing in reserve, while Tom Burgess replaces injured Mark Nicholls in the starting squad.
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 in the back.
Boom stalwart Davvy Moaele also joins the team after producing stunning numbers in the NSW Cup.
For the Dragons, coach Anthony Griffin stuck to the bold call he made last week. This means Jack Bird remains in half time with Ben Hunt and Talatau Amone is on the bench, while Tyrell Sloan is forced to bide his time in reserve with Moses Mbye at the back.
Jaydn Su’A returns in time to face his former club.
Get all the latest NRL news, highlights and analysis straight to your inbox with Fox Sports Sportmail. Register now!!
Relive the action live in our blog below. If you can’t see it, Click here.