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Big win keeps Dragons' dim finals hopes flickering

Big win keeps Dragons' dim finals hopes flickering
The Dragons have given coach Paul McGregor's recent appointment the best possible endorsement, and kept the oxygen pumping through their unlikely finals hopes for another week with a crushing 34-6 defeat of a disappointing Titans outfit at Jubilee Oval on Sunday afternoon.

Dragons swap Soft Serve for concrete
Leader Benji hits his straps
Titans not up to first grade standard
WATCH: Morris runs 90 metres to score a milestone try
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WATCH: Dragons press conference
WATCH: Titans press conference
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With McGregor putting pen to paper on a three year deal on Thursday, the Dragons marked his first game as permanent head coach with a thumping six-tries-to-one win that pushes the Red V back to within two points of eighth place, and also gives their all-important for and against a hefty nudge towards the black, improving it from -49 to -21.

Having last week dusted their fourteen year hoodoo in the nation's capital, they'll have to do the same as they head to Brisbane on Friday night – a city they haven't enjoyed a victory drink in since early 2009 – to again keep the plug from being yanked on their premiership campaign.

If the Dragons' showing justified the club's decision to support McGregor to the hilt and back, then the Titans' effort did likewise for the Gold Coast's perusal of the coaching market, as interim mentor Neil Henry's second game in charge, and the milestone matches of veterans Luke Bailey (150th game for the Titans) and Greg Bird (200th NRL game), wound up thoroughly down the gurgler.

Benji Marshall kicked things off in the ninth minute for the home side when he dived over untouched from a Trent Merrin offload in front of the sticks, after both sides had traded early errors and attacking opportunities from the opening whistle. 

Brett Morris was shown a sliver of daylight by a poorly-timed Daniel Mortimer inside ball and the Origin flyer didn't need to be asked twice to help himself to a 95-metre intercept try. When Nightingale matched his four-pointer on the opposite flank six minutes later the Dragons lead had blown out to 16 with only a quarter of the match gone and the Titans' prospects had a distinct deader-than-disco feel about them.

With the Titans squandering every second opportunity they received, completing just eight of their 16 first half sets, the Dragons were guilty of playing down to the visitors' level in the lead-up to halftime, spilling a number of chances when they found themselves deep in Gold Coast territory.

Upon the resumption Josh Dugan flattened NSW teammate Greg Bird with a hit to warm the cockles of even the most grizzled rugby league sceptic's heart, and within 60 seconds the star three-quarter ensured the wait for the Dragons next strike was worth it.

As the home side pressed the Titans line, Dugan made an ugly old cross-field kick from Gareth Widdop look like a stroke of genius, plucking the pill from the air and reversing his way over the try line for an unconventional, but thoroughly entertaining try that stretched the Dragons' advantage to 22 with half an hour to play.

Marshall – who left the field with an ankle complaint with 25 minutes to play and was later joined on the sidelines by Dugan with a similar ailment – then made short work of the Titans' listless goal-line defence when he sliced through and fed Gerard Beale for the Dragons' fifth meat pie of the afternoon. 

The Dragons' points differential received a further boost when Joel Thompson marked his 26th birthday with a try from short range that proved all too easy, and only a superb ball-and-all tackle from Kalifa Faifai Loa prevented opposite number Nightingale from adding to the Titans' misery minutes later.

Anthony Don finally opened the Titans' account in the 67th minute when he dived over in the right-hand corner, ensuring the Gold Coast avoided being held to nil for the first time in their eight-year history, but it will come as little consolation on the flight home after a fifth consecutive defeat.

St. George Illawarra Dragons 34 (B Marshall, B Morris, J Nightingale, J Dugan, G Beale, J Thompson tries; G Widdop 5 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 6 (A Don try; A Sezer goal) at Jubilee Oval. Crowd: 9,584

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