GOLD Coast Titans poured on the points early to beat a St George Illawarra Dragons side that came home strongly but did too little, too late. The best team won, but the other mob came strong enough to show they’re not to be brushed. Overall a great game of footy.

The Titans will take a mammoth amount of confidence from this outing; they dusted a premiership favourite, were committed in defence and skilful in attack.

Apart from their poor start, the Dragons didn’t do a lot wrong. They showed their credentials in the second half and with a bit of luck might have snuck an unlikely victory.

But the home side fully deserved the win, they ran hard and straight and played skilful footy at high speed.

The Game Swung When… In the 10 minutes before half-time, the Dragons had a series of attacking raids but couldn’t take full toll. Apart from the bomb they seemed to lack ideas and creativity. A minute before half-time, impressive Titans second-rower Brad Meyers went over for his second try following some great work from Scott Prince and Anthony Laffranchi. Prince couldn’t convert from touch, but the try meant the Titans were up by 22 points and coasting like a downhill slalom run.

Wendell Sailor plunged over early in the second half to give Dragons’ fans a sniff.

But in the 51st minute, Luke O’Dwyer dived on a Prince grubber and with 30 minutes to go the Titans had a 20-point lead.

The Dragons kept on coming though, with Jamie Soward going 75 metres down the right-hand touch in the 57th minute, racing away for a brilliant against-the-run-of-play try. His brilliant conversion from the sideline made it 28-14 and the Dragons had momentum.

In the 61st minute, after a scrum on the Titans 20-metre line, Soward popped a ball inside for Hornby who grubbered for the line with the fullback up, Brett Morris picked up the loose ball and went under the posts. The conversion made it 28-20. And the Dragons were back. Especially when the Dragons put a kick through which debutant centre David Mead collected before being bashed back into goal. Drop-out.

The Dragons powered back in the ensuing play but Ben Creagh spilled the ball over the line in the tackle: knock-on. Ten minutes left. Time was running out.

And then, in the 75th minute, came the Dragons’ last chance. Soward hoisted a bomb off his trusty left boot and the Saints streamed through. But Preston Campbell flew in the air like a smaller version of Buddy Franklin, catching the pill and snuffing out the raid.

And that was the game.

Then this happened: Hornby scored a try in the dying seconds, the Dragons declined the kick at goal, the Titans walked back to halfway like zombies, Ben Delaney kicked off with 10 seconds to go, the hooter sounded, the Dragons kicked immediately, the ball went forward, and the Titans earned a penalty.

And for the first time in their history the Titans beat the Dragons.

Who Was Hot… Nathan Friend was typically workaholic in defence (45 tackles) and did the simple ball-distribution duties very well. Mat Rogers ran with great penetration, as did Chris Walker and Brett Delaney. Esi Tonga scored a try and was handy in defence.

Anthony Laffranchi stormed up field with monotonous regularity (17 runs, 145 metres), offloading three times and quite often finding Meyers who scored two tries and broke the line three times. Outstanding effort from the big red-beard. Not often a pair of second-rowers form a ball-playing partnership. More power to them.
The Dragons had plenty of players who tried hard. Forwards Creagh and Neville Costigan were strong and involved, while halves Soward and Hornby did plenty right.

Wendell Sailor ran hard and strong for 18 runs and 174 metres.

Micky Paea was the Dragons’ best with 18 runs, 161 metres and 17 tackles. Big effort from the bench.

Who Was Not… Hard to fault the red-and-whites given the home side were very good. Down by a lot in the first half, the Dragons rallied and came home hard. There’s not much between these sides and a game at Kogarah could easily see the scores reversed.

Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Titans second-row Meyers has the biggest, reddest beard in rugby league history. Know a bigger one? Email NRL.com. And discuss. Apart from the facial fuzz, the big fellow had a storming game, showing the form that won him an Australian jumper in 2001.

Middle of the second half Laffranchi offloaded well in the tackle, found Meyers who offloaded to Rogers streaming up the middle. The dual international tore downfield, kicked ahead, the ball bobbling about like a pointy pinball. In the next set Campbell showed beautiful quick hands to put Tonga over in the corner.

Several sets later Michael Weyman laid a big hit on Luke Bailey, a meeting of baldy Shrek-like heads (if not minds) not seen since Geoff Gerard ran into fellow bearded beast-man Geoff Robinson in 1981.

Bad Boys… In the 71st minute Soward took a kick on the bounce, turned, slipped, and copped a forearm from Tonga on the fly. Ref Ben Cummins put Tonga on report but there was nothing Tonga could do about the hit. He ran in hard and collected Soward’s chin when it was 50cm off the ground.

Refs Watch… After one minute and 47 seconds, chasing a kick, Titans fullback Campbell let the ball bounce off his chest, put a foot into touch then retrieved the pill in-goal. Top decision by the touch judge not to raise his flag. (Hey – credit where it’s due people!).

Minutes later Titans prop Michael Henderson dropped the ball with Costigan all over him, mucking around, hands on arms, the ball, and a few other bits. Costigan was attempting to play it cute and get the ball. Fair enough, but a good call from Alan Shortall telling him it was against the rules.

In the 10th minute Campbell leapt up for a bomb, was taken out in the air and Cummins ruled a penalty to the Titans. Fair enough, except that Campbell was taken out by team-mate Prince. Poor call by Cummins, but one supposes you see a fullback in the air getting hammered, you assume it’s the other mob.

In the 13th minute Prince grubbered, the ball bobbled and beat fullback Jason Nightingale in the air. Titans wing Chris Walker ran through, possibly off-side, and possibly bounced the ball off his fingertips forward in a knock-on-like fashion, and was awarded the try after a couple of replays courtesy of video ref Paul Simpkins and the benefit of the doubt ruling.

Okay – are we all happy now?

Outstanding try by the Titans in the 21st minute. Prince took the ball one off the ruck, found Walker on the fly who ploughed into the Dragons’ line. Quick play-the-ball, Friend passed to Laffranchi, ran around and found Rogers at speed. The dual international ran hard for the line and offloaded to Meyers, the great red-bearded Viking plunged over, earning a seven-replay Benefit-Of-The-Doubt try. Is benefit of the doubt the new black?

Wendell Sailor crashed over off a Ben Hornby inside ball and video ref Simpkins, after a fairly pregnant pause, ruled thus: Micky Paea had not knocked on, the ball went to Jamie Soward who found Hornby who put Sailor over for another Benefit-Of-The-Doubt four-pointer.

NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Nathan Friend (Titans): Made 45 tackles and contributed slick play from dummy-half; 2 points – Brad Meyers (Titans) : Two tries and plenty of involvement; 1 point – Scott Prince (Titans): Typically classy play from the game’s no.2 halfback.

Titans 28 (B Meyers 2, C Walker, E Tonga, L O’Dwyer tries; S Prince 4­ goals) def Dragons 24 (W Sailor, J Soward, B Morris, B Hornby tries; J Soward 4 goals) at Skilled Park. Crowd: 20,416.