ST GEORGE Illawarra have dropped out of the top eight for the first time since round two after falling to a third straight loss, 50-14, at the hands of South Sydney on Sunday night.
Anthony Griffin's side now has just four wins in their past 14 games but, remarkably, remains in the top eight as one of what could be five teams on eight wins by the end of the round.
Jack de Belin, Josh McGuire, Jack Bird and Blake Lawrie were all watching on as they served their 'barbecue suspensions', Zac Lomax and Daniel Alvaro doing the same by a longer route.
All can return next week again the Raiders, with Gerard Beale and Josh Kerr the last two players to serve a suspension and fully put barbecue-gate behind them.
Beyond that, the Panthers, Roosters and Rabbitohs (again) loom in three of their last four games. A loss to the Raiders - who leapfrogged them into eighth spot despite suffering their own loss on Sunday- next week could render it all moot.
"The disappointing thing tonight was that last 15 minutes. It really hurt us in the moment, but the points for and against don't help you at this time of the year," Griffin said.
"I thought [we were in it], even up until the middle of the second half. We got it back to 30-14 and if we'd have got another try there it would've have given them a lot more confidence to finish the game off.
"For 60 minutes there we were doing a reasonable job, particularly that first 30 minutes. We were probably entitled to go ahead there just before halftime when we had a bit of ball down there end but it wasn't to be.
"We've got to move on the next week, obviously we get most of our troops back. We'll get those guys back in and we've got to start winning some games."
In stark contrast to the Dragons recent losses, the gulf was not in effort, but in class, the Rabbitohs showing too much of it against a team so thoroughly stripped of its top talent.
The gulf wasn't apparent for most of the first half that was poised at 12-10 before tries to Taane Milne and Jaydn Su'a in the seven minutes before halftime snuffed out the resistance.
Griffin's side would go on to miss a staggering 57 tackles and concede a further five tries in the second half that would have seen the crowd leave early had they not been already sitting at home in lockdown.
"In the first half our attack just didn't function the way it should have," Griffin said.
"Our finish to sets at times was really poor, we let them off the hook and that continued in the second half.
"We built pressure at times with our effort areas and kick chase and tried to turn the game around but we didn't have one play-the-ball in their 20 in the second half. A lot of that we did to ourselves.
"We couldn't build any pressure on them. For periods there we had our chance to get into the game it was just a combination of the opposition being really good and us losing our way with the ball.
"They're a brilliant attacking side and they pulled us apart a bit there."
The Dragons looked to have opened the scoring when Jaxon Paulo fluffed reception of a Ben Hunt clearing kick, though replays showed Corey Norman also fumbled the scraps before Mat Feagai swooped.
Replays stripped the youngster of the opening four-pointer and there was no denying Latrell Mitchell the opener five minutes later. Reynolds added the extras for a 6-0 lead after nine minutes.
The Rabbitohs continued to pepper the Dragons right edge, with Walker shrugging off Talatau Amone for his side's second try and a 12-0 lead via Reynolds' conversion.
The Dragons hit back off the boot of Hunt, with Billy Burns winning the race to well-weighted grubber to grab his side's first try and cut the margin back four.
Hunt's boot continued to prove lethal, the skipper forcing a line dropout next time up the park and laying on Tyrell Fuiamaono's 25th minute try with beautifully placed kicks.
Norman inexplicably nailed the conversion attempt, from just to the right of the posts, into the upright to keep the score at 12-10.
The kicking wizardry from Hunt continued with a 40-20 from dummy-half in the next set, but his side couldn't convert, Burns spilling it on the last and handing the ball back over.
Fuimaono had a forgettable few moments after scoring, spilling the ball in his own and end and clipping Mark Nicholls with a hight shot three tackles later.
It saw him placed on report, with Milne crossing from close range in the set that followed. Reynolds continued his perfect night off the tee for an eight-point lead.
Dragons 2022 recruit Su'a followed up off a short-ball from Reynolds with less than two minutes before the break, Reynolds converting for a 14-point halftime cushion.
Amone and Hunt both produced try-savers early in the second stanza but it was where the resistance ended, the Rabbitohs going on a single-set 90-metre drive for Josh Mansour to finish. Reynolds again grabbed the extras as the lead ballooned to 20 with still half an hour to play.
Tyrell Sloan grabbed his third try in as many top-grade outings off a neat offload from Burns, showing Mitchell a clean pair of heels with 15 minutes left but the Rabbitohs had the last say with tries to Reynolds, Jai Arrow and Keaon Koloamatangi and Mitchell closing the match out.
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