Widdop one-pointer gets Dragons home
A Gareth Widdop field goal eight minutes from full-time has kept the executioner away from the Dragons' door for one more week after they snuck home in an entertaining if at times frustrating clash with the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday.
With his team leading by six points and with no pressure coming from an unsuspecting Titans defence, Widdop slotted the one-pointer from 20m out just left of the posts, St George Illawarra surviving a late Titans surge to win 19-18.
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In the end it was the Dragons' new-look halves pairing that functioned marginally better than the Titans' new-look halves with Widdop and Benji Marshall coming up with just enough good play to outweigh the bad.
In a match that could have doubled as the championship final of the Rocks or Diamonds League, two sides battling for their seasons went into the break locked together at 12-all with the stalemate only broken in the 60th minute when the Dragons' sole Origin forward Trent Merrin put a neat little right-foot step on Titans halfback Daniel Mortimer close to the line and slid through the defence to score.
Titans co-captain Nate Myles, who had been in regular communication with the match officials throughout proceedings, was sin-binned in the immediate aftermath for abusive language when he questioned the use of a block runner and was sent for a 10-minute stint on the sidelines.
Any jubilation for the Dragons, however, was relatively short-lived with Merrin forced from the field three minutes later with a right ankle injury and failed to return for the final quarter of an hour of the match.
The see-sawing first half was an exhibition from three players still trying to adjust to being in unfamiliar surroundings.
In his fifth game for the Dragons, Marshall laid on the first try of the game in the fourth minute when he put Leeson Ah Mau into a hole 15 metres out from the Titans' line and the burly back-rower thundered his way across the tryline virtually untouched.
Marshall then went back to the right side in the 14th minute as the Dragons launched an all-out attack and despite the majority of the Titans' defence back-pedalling, Marshall's attempted cut-out pass to an unmarked Jason Nightingale was snaffled by Gold Coast flyer Kevin Gordon 15m out from the line, Gordon outpacing both Josh Dugan and Adam Quinlan to score under the posts and wrestle the opening wave of momentum away from the Dragons.
Although the combinations looked understandably clunky, new halfback Daniel Mortimer registered his first try assist in Titans colours in the 25th minute when he hit Mark Minichiello with a short ball close to the line, the most capped Titan bustling his way over despite the attention of Ben Creagh and Joel Thompson.
He followed that up with a successful conversion and judicious kick at the end of the next set and despite having had just two runs with his new team-mates prior to stepping in for the crucial encounter, Mortimer looked more and more assured as the half went on, straightening an attack that too often drifted from one side to the other.
Dugan has been wearing red and white for more than 12 months but the No.3 jersey is still taking some getting used to but given his try in the 32nd minute it is an experiment worth seeing through.
With Marshall drifting across field to the right, Dugan fell in on an 'unders' play 10m out and then twisted, turned and lunged to score his fifth try of the season, beating three Titans defenders with footwork and strength before planting the ball down.
Two minutes later the Titans were reduced to 16 men for the remainder of the game when lock forward Ben Ridge was caught in a sickening head clash while attempting to tackle Will Matthews, eventually taken from the field on the medicab.
St George Illawarra Dragons 19 (Leeson Ah Mau, Josh Dugan, Trent Merrin tries; Gareth Widdop 3 goals, Widdop field goal) def. Gold Coast Titans 18 (Kevin Gordon, Mark Minichiello, Brad Takairangi tries; Greg Bird 2, Daniel Mortimer goals). Half-time: 12-all. Crowd: 12,189. Sin bin: Nate Myles (Titans) 60th.
The Titans set up a frantic final 69 seconds after Brad Takairangi ran a wide line to score from a Maurice Blair cut-out pass but frenetic ball movement from the kick-off ended with a knock-on by centre James Roberts.
Their sixth win of the season had little impact on St George Illawarra's place on the Telstra Premiership ladder, still sitting in 13th place two wins outside the top eight.