Dugan injured in scrappy Storm win
A left ankle injury to fullback Josh Dugan has compounded the Dragons woes after they were beaten 12-4 by Melbourne Storm in a scrappy game of football at Jubilee Oval.
Dugan's injury was just one of many concerns for the Dragons after they failed to score in the first half, despite having 64 percent of ball possession and 33 tackles inside Melbourne's 20 metre zone within the first 35 minutes.
The Storm weren't much better as their discipline and poor handling threatened to derail their opening clash of the Telstra Premiership, but luckily their defence held strong despite having to make 80 more tackles than their opponents.
"I was disappointed with our attack. We had a lot of opportunities with good ball possession and it was no reflection with the way we practiced before the game that’s for sure," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
"I thought defensively though, if you hold Melbourne to 12 points or less you usually win the game. It's a really good sign for our 'D', we held it together quite it well.
"It's just disappointing we didn't capitalise in attack because we had a completion rate of around 86 percent."
McGregor wasn't confident that Dugan would be ready for the Dragons' Round 2 clash with Wests Tigers next Monday.
"It's not a great night for Josh. He has to have a scan on it to see the full depth of the injury to see if he can play next week but he has his foot in a bucket of ice at the moment so it doesn't look great," he said.
Melbourne will have to nervously await the Match Review Committee's charge sheet with trio Dale Finucane, Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi all placed on report. Of most concern is the immediate future of debutant Kaufusi, who in the opening minutes of his first appearance, took out the legs of Benji Marshall while the Dragons halfback was in the process of kicking.
While the game was anything but fluent, the Storm were quick to draw first and only blood of the first stanza when winger Young Tonumaipea crossed after four minutes thanks to a well-timed chip across field from Cooper Cronk. The third-tackle option from the halfback proved to be a byproduct of the rawness of debutant Dragons winger Eto Nabuli who misread the Storm defence.
A Marshall 40/20 was the catalyst of the Dragons first taste of good territory but after three consecutive sets on the Storm's tryline, they failed to get the job done.
In fact, after nine attacking raids within the Storm's half over the course of the first 40 minutes, the Dragons still couldn't force their way over for their opening try of the season with errors and lateral play quickly becoming their enemy.
Cooper Cronk's wishful attempt at a field goal on the halftime siren was waved away in what could have frankly been an early nail in the coffin for the Dragons.
However, the hoe side looked to have finally turned the corner in the 48th minute when Nabuli pounced on a neat grubber kick from Marshall to score in the left corner, though five-eighth Gareth Widdop failed to level the ledger when his conversion was waved away.
Despite the Dragons' best efforts, a Bromwich offload allowed centre Will Chambers some open space in the 60th minute which saw him power through Widdop and Dane Nielsen to score the eventual match winning try.
In his 150th NRL game, Ryan Hinchcliffe looked to have capped off his milestone with a try next to the uprights but it was quickly denied by the on-field referees when Billy Slater was ruled to have taken out the opposition defence.
"I was really happy with our effort in defence. It's something we were really disappointed with last year so it was something we have put plenty of work into," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
"Especially in the first half we were on our tryline a lot and the boys kept coming up. Having said that, we don't want to be tackling like that each week.
"We made it hard for ourselves, even after halftime we kept turning over the ball and giving cheap penalties away."
Melbourne Storm 12 (Young Tonumaipea, Will Chambers Try; Cameron Smith 2 Goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 4 (Eto Nabuli Try) at Jubilee Oval. Crowd: 10,028.