Sometimes it’s a mediocre performance that shows how far you’ve come. Such was the case for the Dragons this past weekend in their encounter across the Tasman. Their second-half showing was probably their sloppiest 40 minutes of the year. Error upon error presented the Warriors with enough quality possession to win three matches. Yet Wayne Bennett’s men emerged from a hostile venue with a 25-point win, earning them a four-point break on the rest of the field in the race for the minor premiership. It was further proof this is the side to beat for the 2009 premiership.
Their handsome half-time lead notwithstanding, this was the sort of match St George Illawarra may well have surrendered in years past. But though the Warriors tried everything, they struggled to make a dent in the Dragons’ defence, which looked as keen and robust in the last five minutes as it did in the first. As such, it hardly mattered that their attack misfired in the second 40, though Darius Boyd’s first try of the season from a Jamie Soward chip kick in the dying seconds was a sweet way for the visitors to finish.
It took the Dragons just three minutes to open their account, Brett Morris maintaining his try-a-game average by crossing from a Soward bomb.
The Warriors’ best moment came four minutes later, when they executed a set play to perfection for Simon Mannering to put Joel Moon in for the equaliser. It was attack of a quality that suggested an enthralling, high-quality contest, but it was mostly downhill for the Warriors from there.
The Dragons scored twice more in the first half, tries coming from clever work by Michael Weyman and Ben Creagh, and the second half was a bit of a mess for both teams. The Warriors actually had the edge in some key indicators (completions, time in possession, off-loads and errors), but they’d acknowledge they never really looked in the hunt, to the effect they’ll play for pride alone for the rest of the season.
The Game Swung When… Apart from during the first 20 minutes, the only time the Warriors looked vaguely capable of an upset was early in the second half, which they began with enterprise and spirit (and a glut of ball). But raiding away on the hour near the Dragons’ line, an Ian Henderson kick went straight into the bread basket of Soward, who raced 95 metres to score and put his team out by 20. As a contest, it was game over at that point.
Who Was Hot… Soward again had a hand in everything and is playing with a poise and confidence that is lifting his team. Weyman was terrific in the middle, as was Justin Poore with his 138 metres from 13 runs. Darius Boyd had arguably his best game in the red and white, with several nice touches in attack, while the fleet-footed Morris and Chase Stanley showed again what deadly finishers they are.
Mannering was the Warriors’ best, setting up Moon expertly for his side’s only try, and gobbling 147 metres for the afternoon.
Who Was Not… While a lot of Dragons left their focus in the sheds at half-time, Jarrod Saffy was the worst culprit, committing two clumsy errors with the ball before being hooked by coach Bennett.
For the Warriors, fullback Wade McKinnon, while his side’s top metre-eater, committed the game’s dumbest mistake, being bundled into touch on the first tackle when the Warriors were in a fine attacking position and still in with a chance during the second half. He compounded the error by blowing up, throwing away the ball and incurring a penalty.
And the little champion Stacey Jones had an afternoon to forget, producing a spate of ineffective sixth-tackle kicks and failing to make an impression with his running game.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… What’s a St George Illawarra game without a Wendell Sailor moment? In the second half, the big fella sprinted back toward his line to take a high kick on his fingertips, and while negotiating the wide arc he requires these days to change direction, raised an arm in triumph to acknowledge the crowd that may have been sticking it to him. Good theatre.
Bad Boys… All clear.
Refs Watch… Gavin Badger and Ashley Klein went okay but denied big Dell a try by ruling the final pass from Soward forward. Replays suggested it only looked forward because Soward was knocked backwards on releasing the ball.
The best ruling of the day came from the touch judge who detected the Warriors’ Manu Vatuvei putting a toe on the sideline while trying to prevent a Soward 40/20.
NRL Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jamie Soward (Dragons): A try, four goals and a field-goal made this another day at the office for the comp’s in-form playmaker; 2 points – Michael Weyman (Dragons): Powerful display yielded 25 tackles and 104 metres in attack, as well as a try-creating off-load; 1 point – Chase Stanley (Dragons): Sharp in attack with 127 metres, plus 23 tackles.
Dragons 29 (B Morris 2, C Stanley, J Soward, D Boyd tries; J Soward 4 goals, field-goal) def Warriors 4 (J Moon try) at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 13,507.