ST GEORGE Illawarra played powerful, clinical rugby league to outlast an in-form North Queensland at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium.
The Dragons look an excellent football team under Wayne Bennett. They do the little things very well, don’t make too many mistakes and hit hard and often in defence.
The Cowboys scored three good tries and worked hard in defence, and with a bit of luck could have snuck away with a win. They’ll leave the ’Gong not disgraced, safe in the knowledge they’re a top-eight side in waiting.
But the Saints were deserved winners here and their fans must now truly be thinking, wondering, praying… please, could this be the year?
The Game Swung When … Brett Morris took off. The Dragons flier was fed the ball by fullback Darius Boyd 10 metres from his try line; he piled on the pace, out-stripped several defenders before dishing it inside to Matt Cooper who went under the posts on a 50-metre run to the line. That gave the Saints an eight-point lead with eight minutes to go. When Johnathan Thurston put his kick-off out on the full and Jamie Soward ran away for an opportunist try, it was goodnight nurse.
Earlier Soward kicked a penalty goal with 30 minutes to play that seemed an interesting decision at the time given there was plenty of time left and they’d have six tackles 10 metres out. But the points proved to be a buffer the Dragons never relinquished.
Earlier, the Cowboys best player Luke O’Donnell scored just after half-time to make it 18-12 and the visitors were well in the game. Though Matt Bowen went off with rib damage with 20 minutes to go, his team were into it up to their electrical tape headbands when Willie Tonga scored in the 69th minute. Two-point ball game…. 10 to go.
But the Dragons rallied, as champions do in clutch moments. Morris burned down the wing and the experienced Cooper knew exactly where to be in support. This is a good footy team, these Saints.
Who Was Hot… Cooper set up the first try, scored two himself, and ran with menace down the left-hand side.
Ben Hornby was dangerous and Soward’s long-kicking game kept his forwards happy.
The Dragons got great yardage and bruising, water-tight defence from their formidable forward pack, with Michael Weyman (14 runs, 133 metres), Ben Creagh (13 runs, 118 metres, six tackle breaks) and Justin Poore (15 runs, 39 tackles) all strong. Creagh in particular, running slightly wide of the ruck, was a huge handful. Throw in a workhorse (Jarrod Saffy), a ball-playing back-rower (Neville Costigan) and a scary big bopper (Micky Paea) and you can make a case why the Dragons will give the ’09 premiership a big shake.
North Queensland were best served by prop Mathew Scott (16 runs, 137 metres), O’Donnell (16 runs, 26 tackles) and Willie Tonga who scored a try and set one up.
Who Was Not… Wendell Sailor pulled off an atrocious piece of play in the 24th minute when he ran sideways, then backwards, then threw a pass that was intercepted by Ashley Graham. The ball was swung wide to the left where Sailor wasn’t in position to stop winger Ty Williams scoring in the corner.
Also, Johnathan Thurston’s short-kicking game was not up to his high standards. Kicks that normally hit outside runners on the chest went into touch, out on the full or dead in-goal. It’s long been North Queensland’s problem that when Thurston is off his game or off the field, they struggle. They deny they do, but they do.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Great try by the Dragons in the 3rd minute. The ball was swung wide to Darius Boyd after an excellent pass by Ben Hornby that suckered in two Cowboys defenders who tackled Creagh. Quick hands from Boyd put Cooper in space out wide and the big centre set sail, fullback to beat. Cooper angled in towards Bowen and sent a perfect pass to Morris who juggled a little but ran over to score.
Justin Poore did brilliantly to tackle Thurston after the master halfback had thrown a massive dummy and stepped hard off his left foot into a hole.
Bad Boys… Matt Cecchin put Beau Scott on report for trying to stop a Williams try by sliding in feet first. Would have been an eight-pointer had Scott connected with Williams’ head, said Cecchin.
Scott was charged by the match review committee but will be free to play with an early guilty plea.
Refs Watch… Cooper scored the Dragons’ second try from a Creagh pass so forward it travelled forward in time.
In the 47th minute Tony Archer ruled that O’Donnell was trying to pass the ball while he was being gang-tackled by three Dragons. O’Donnell dropped the pill because he couldn’t hang onto it but he wasn’t trying to pass it. He could not. It was one of a couple of questionable calls by Archer who’s normally very good.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Matt Cooper (St George Illawarra): A powerhouse game from the Origin-standard centre; 2 points – Justin Poore (St George Illawarra): A mountain of work from an in-form prop; 1 point – Luke O’Donnell (North Queensland): Did all he could – 16 runs, three tackle breaks, two offloads, 26 tackles and a try.
Dragons 32 (M Cooper 2, B Morris, B Creagh, J Soward tries; J Soward 6 goals) def Cowboys 18 (T Williams, L O’Donnell, W Tonga tries; J Thurston 3 goals) at WIN Stadium. Crowd: 11,374.