Souths hold off Sharks' late charge in NRL

Scott Bailey
South Sydney have hung on for a 22-18 NRL season round one win over Cronulla at ANZ Stadium

South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett admits his team had been lucky to hold off a fast-finishing Cronulla with a 22-18 win to start their NRL season.

In a thrilling finish on Saturday night, the Sharks were denied a try in the second-last minute by a forward pass which would have completed a stunning comeback.

Captain Wade Graham attempted to challenge the call after Josh Morris had crossed, but was correctly told by referee Ben Cummins he was unable to have a forward pass reviewed.

Replays showed the call was the correct one, with the ball from Connor Tracey to Morris going marginally forward.

The blow came after the Sharks had trailed 22-8 with 18 minutes to go, before launching a comeback through Shaun Johnson and Sione Katoa.

"I think we were lucky," Bennett said.

"We did everything we possibly could to beat ourselves. We gave them every opportunity.

"But we did stick it out with our defence in the last 15 minutes when we were very vulnerable."

Katoa scored two tries, with the first coming on the right wing as he ran on to a bullet two-man cut-out ball from Johnson.

His second was even better, a sensational acrobatic effort to get the ball down within centimetres of the line after nice set up play by Johnson and Will Kennedy.

The signs were good for the Rabbitohs, though, even as Bennett eased Latrell Mitchell into the fullback role with 56 minutes for just four runs before being taken off.

Their new-look middle passed its first test, holding firm after losing Sam and George Burgess and John Sutton from their pack after last season.

Tevita Tatola was particularly impressive as he ran 177 metres, while he, Tom Burgess and Liam Knight reached almost 300 metres combined in their opening 26-minute stint.

"(Tatola) is one of the most-improved players in the club in my opinion," Bennett said.

"He gets better each week. He was mainly a bench player when I got here last year. I noticed with his training he has upped the ante and he has a lot of talent."

Knight also provided a crunch play late, with a big hit on Graham to force an error on the Sharks' captain with Cronulla on the attack and hunting a match-winning try.

Adam Reynolds impressed in his maiden showing as captain, scoring Souths' first when he spotted a gap and came back through the middle.

Winger Campbell Graham scored a crucial try on halftime to extend the Rabbitohs' lead to 16-8, despite being down a man with James Roberts sin-binned for a professional foul.

And Ethan Lowe scored their other, chasing through on a Cody Walker kick which ricocheted off Johnson to give the Rabbitohs their 22-8 lead early in the second half.

"The game was there to be won," Sharks coach John Morris said.

"It could have been a much different result there if (that pass) stuck."