The Dragons couldn’t end their hoodoo Melbourne Storm hoodoo on Monday night but they managed to extend their unbeaten streak against the Warriors to 10 with a 20-10 win at WIN Jubilee Oval on Saturday.
St George Illawarra showed no signs of a hangover from their controversial after-the-siren loss to Melbourne six nights earlier when they raced in three tries to two against a Warriors side who overcame a poor second half to get within a try of the Dragons midway through the second half in the NRL in front of 10,599 people. The loss has left new coach Andrew McFadden searching for his first victory after two starts.
After Monday’s heartache - plus Friday night’s controversial obstruction rulings - the Dragons didn’t need another referee blunder. While officials - aided by the countdown to the end of each half by the timekeeper into their earpieces - signalled the end of the game correctly, it was a forward pass that could have haunted the Dragons. A suspect flick pass by centre Dane Nielsen allowed Manu Vatuvei to streak 50 metres and score to bring the Warriors within four points of St George Illawarra with 17 minutes remaining.
St George Illawarra coach Steve Price said his team spoke about bouncing back from last week’s loss.
“It’s been a tough week but I’m proud of the way we responded,” Price said. “I wasn’t overly concerned [about last week's loss having an impact]. You don’t know how it’ll impact you until after the game but we are sitting here knowing we’ve got the job done.”
But the match swayed back in the Dragons' favour when fullback Josh Dugan finished off two kicks to score. A last-tackle grubber by Michael Witt found Mitch Rein who put a kick through for Dugan to outpace the Warriors' outside backs.
The Dragons' representative back three of Dugan, Jason Nightingale and Brett Morris were strong. The trio looked unfazed by a barrage of high balls, and they helped the home side get out of their own end with plenty of metres from early set carries. Dugan and Morris look set to retain their NSW spots while Nightingale made a statement as he looks to reclaim his Kiwis Test position, outplaying incumbent Vatuvei. Dugan overcame an accidental knee to the head by opposite Sam Tomkins to play a starring role.
The Dragons trio finished with more than 100 metres in carries each.
“They were outstanding,” Price said. “The back three did their job. We are very grateful. They do a lot of tracking off the ball.”
It was a defensive error by Vatuvei that helped Nightingale open the scoring for the Dragons. Despite dominating possession, it took the Dragons until the final six minutes of the first half to score when Nightingale seized on a kind bounce from a Witt cut-out pass and dived head first over the try line as he evaded the attention of the oncoming Warriors defence. It was Vatuvei who jammed in on St George Illawarra centre Nathan Green which opened the passage for Nightingale to score.
“That try was outstanding,” Price said. “I was a little bit scared with the way his head fell into the ground.”
A Mike Cooper try, through the middle of a lazy Warriors defence, extended the half-time lead to 12.
A first-half flare that went off in the middle of the Dragons fan base on the hill showed more spark than a poor Warriors side who are now genuine wooden spoon contenders, having won two matches this year. It was Tomkins who ignited the Warriors, with a solo effort beating three players to score the first try of the second half in the 50th minute.
When Vatuvei streaked away, a comeback win was on the cards but another handling error after the try again meant they couldn’t build pressure against a tiring Dragons outfit.
“There was lots of effort,” McFadden said. “But we just lacked that quality of execution. We made too many errors and didn’t build enough pressure on the opposition.”
The story St George Illawarra Dragons continue NZ Warriors' season of woe first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.