Dragons surge home to sink Raiders
Despite a horror first half, the St George Illawarra Dragons have somehow come back from an 18-0 deficit to beat the Raiders 22-20 in Canberra.
With everything seemingly going wrong for the Dragons, especially in the first half where at one point they were completing just 45 per cent of their sets, three second-half tries saw the visitors record their first win of the season with a late try to former Raider Joel Thompson proving the difference.
After a Trent Merrin try and two Gareth Widdop goals in the final three minutes of the first half saw the Dragons go into the sheds trailing 18-8, the Dragons continued their unlikely resurgence thanks to a cheeky dive in the corner from captain Jason Nightingale in the 48th minute to cut the deficit down to six.
A Jarrod Croker goal three minutes later saw the Raiders extend their lead to eight before controversy struck soon when Josh Dugan, in his 100th NRL game, was sin-binned for a professional foul against his former club.
The Dragons showed they weren't dead and buried after Eto Nabuli was denied a try in the 64th minute when a darting 40-metre scoot from Mitch Rein six minutes later saw the hooker fly past Raiders fullback Jordan Rapana to cut Canberra's lead to four.
Thompson scored the match-winner in the 75th minute when he pushed his way past Bill Tupou, Blake Austin and Edrick Lee to cross, with Gareth Widdop's conversion handing the men in red a two-point victory.
It wasn't all rosy for the Red V though in the opening stanza though.
English import Josh Hodgson opened the scoring for the Raiders with his first NRL try in the ninth minute, powering his way over from dummy-half despite Dugan and Thompson doing their best to hold him up.
The home side went back-to-back through second-rower Iosia Soliola in the 15th minute. With the Dragons on the ropes – due to poor discipline and handling – a simple double pump pass from Canberra halfback Mitch Cornish put Soliola through for his first try in the NRL since August 2009.
Four minutes later it was Blake Austin's turn to cross for his first Raiders try when he took on the line and pulled off a show-and-go past NRL debutant Euan Aitken and Eto Nabuli to make it a 18-0 scoreline, before the Red V roared home with a much improved second-half showing.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor praised his team's perseverance in playing their way back into the match.
"To find that energy and certainly that attitude and effort it was really pleasing. It was something we lost in the opening two rounds of the game but certainly had a fair chunk of it in the backend of last year," McGregor said.
"The boys to their credit completed 19 of 20 [sets] in the second half and the back five ran over 100 metres each so it's a massive credit to the guys."
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said poor decisions from his team brought the Dragons back into the contest.
"It wasn't good enough. The 25-minute mark we brought them right back into the game and invited them into the game through soft choices and poor plays and they took the invitation."
St George Illawarra Dragons 22 (Trent Merrin, Jason Nightingale, Mitch Rein, Joel Thompson Tries; Gareth Widdop 3 Goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 20 (Josh Hodgson, Iosia Soliola, Blake Austin Tries; Jarrod Croker 4 Goals). Crowd: 11,774. Half-time: Raiders 18-8. On report: Mike Cooper (Dragons) High tackle – 31st minute.