Dragons withstand wounded Tigers
St George-Illawarra has proven too strong for a wounded Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, running out 28-12 winners despite having to overcome a dangerous second half comeback.
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With the Tigers already suffering a crisis in the outside backs before kickoff, they then lost two forwards to injury during the game and had fullback Mitch Moses and halfback Luke Brooks each hampered by shoulder injuries.
The 22,618 fans also saw several refereeing controversies amid a masterclass from Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop and winger Brett Morris in the win that kept Paul McGregor's side's finals hopes very much alive.
The Tigers remain in equal seventh spot with 22 points, but drop to the 11th rung with a poor for-and-against.
The game kicked off with an entertaining but scoreless opening 20 minutes before the Dragons blew the home side off the park in a four-tries to nil burst before half time – a period in which each side also had a try controversially disallowed.
The drama started right from the kick off when last week's four-try hero Keith Lulia fluffed the mark at the right touch line with the sun in his eyes to hand the Dragons an early chance. He would have been relieved when Widdop's short ball to put Mike Cooper over was called forward.
Despite several line breaks – including some searing runs by Brett Morris and Moses attacking a Widdop grubber in an 80-metre play – the end-to-end footy had yielded no points until Widdop broke the deadlock in the 20th minute.
Morris's second long line break down the left touch line led to a grubber ahead which Widdop won the race to, handing the Dragons a 6-0 lead, before the first of several refereeing controversies.
A monster kick-off from Pat Richards was fielded at the dead-ball line by Marshall, who put his back foot dead shortly after catching the ball, but what should clearly have been a goal line drop out and a chance for the Tigers was instead ruled a penalty on halfway to the Dragons.
They couldn't make the Tigers pay on that occasion but Widdop and Morris were in the action five minutes later to extend the Dragons' lead.
Widdop's precision chip to Morris was beautifully batted back into the hands of Gerard Beale who had very little work to do from there to score in the corner. Widdop sliced the sideline effort between the sticks for a 12-0 advantage.
Despite the home side creating a few attacking chances the Dragons were again next to score at the half hour mark and again Widdop was in the thick of it.
Supporting a Mitch Rein line break when the hooker stepped Sauaso Sue from dummy half, the former Storm pivot was again on hand to race through and score under the post.
It looked like being four tries to nil in the 36th minute when Quinlan went on a run to the line. However it was sent up to the video referee as a no try because after Brooks was ruled to have been taken out by decoy runner Leeson Ah Mau.
The Tigers then went the length of the field only to have their own try disallowed when Tim Simona raced through on a Brooks grubber to earn a fingertip grounding millimetres inside the dead ball line.
However again the video ref was reluctant to overturn the on-field call, saying there was enough doubt in the grounding to stay with the no-try ruling.
The action-packed finish to the half continued, and again it was Widdop the destroyer when his jinking run and cutout pass sent Jason Nightingale away down the right. The underrated winger bumped off Brooks and beat Moses to the corner to take a comfortable 22-0 lead at the break.
Desperately needing some spark the Tigers exploded out of the blocks in the second half.
The initial inspiration came from five-eighth Blake Austin, who threw what may have been the biggest dummy in rugby league history to fool Mitch Rein.
He was lucky not to have thrown a shoulder out, such was the enormity of his fake, and he then wrong-footed Quinlan to get his side on the board after 45 minutes.
Skipper Robbie Farah then well and truly earned the momentum for his side with his searching dummy-half run to slice through and close the gap to 10.
The Dragons went back into their shells and were happy to take the two points to stretch their lead back out to 12 points on a penalty close to the sticks.
However with prop Keith Galloway playing just the first 20 minutes of the game before going off with a shoulder injury and bench forward Sauaso Sue playing only a handful of minutes due to injury, fatigue came into play for the home side.
It all caught up with them late with Morris's match-sealing try in the 68th-minute, to take the lead out to 28-12 and that's the way it ended.
St George Illawarra Dragons 28 (Widdop 2, Beale, Nightingale, Morris tries, Widdop 4 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 12 (Austin, Farah tries, Richards 2 goals). Crowd 22,618.