Dragons v Panthers: Five key points
Unheralded players come up with underrated plays as defence wins out for the St George Illawarra Dragons in their 14-12 victory over the Penrith Panthers.
Clutch Will Matthews
In a game where Gareth Widdop's short kick-off handed the Dragons the ball back, only for Josh Dugan to score the match-winning try in the final four minutes – let's not forget about the role Will Matthews played from there.
While his 54-metre, 17-tackle efforts won't be at the forefront of Dragons fans' minds, his two clutch plays in the final three minutes definitely should be.
Not only did Matthews leap high above everyone else to get a handle on the Panthers' short kick-off following Dugan's try, he also took an intercept in the dying seconds to kill off any chance Penrith had of winning.
Defence stands tall, when not much else did
A combined 80 missed tackles aside, both clubs' scramble in defence (mainly in the first half) has to be commended considering it took 53 minutes for the opening try to be scored.
Defensive resolve certainly captured the heart of the Dragons' efforts last year, and it certainly looks to be the case again 12 months on.
"It wasn't frustrating the lack of points," Dugan told NRL.com. "All of last year we weren't about scoring points we were about defending them and a try saved is as good as a try scored for us."
Dragons coach Paul McGregor was pleased however with his side's poise when it mattered most.
"I thought our composure in the last five minutes was the best it has been this year to be honest. When we were under the pump Gareth came up with some really good plays and Josh obviously finished it off," McGregor said.
"As a coach you get excited by that. When you're out on your feet and you're behind, and just to be nice and composed off the back of that was really promising."
Euan Aitken's timely try
Hopefully we won't have to go 53 minutes into a contest without a try scored again anytime soon. With the game delicately poised at 2-all, up stepped Euan Aitken. The game was seemingly resurrected when the Dragons centre crossed for his first try of the year 13 minutes past oranges.
While it wasn't cause for a flood of points the game was exponentially better once Aitken scored as seen in Peta Hiku, Josh Mansour and Josh Dugan's tries that followed.
Young Aitken however will be racing the clock to play reigning premiers North Queensland next Saturday night.
"Euan has a bad cork. Nothing structural so we'll give him every chance to play next week," McGregor said. "He's only young so he'll be able to recover quicker than the old blokes."
Thumbs down for Cartwright
Bryce Cartwright is a brave player. Even with his dislocated thumb failing to pop back into its allocated socket, he attempted to play on in the final minutes of the first half.
At one point he was to be rushed to Wollongong hospital with Penrith trainers unable to put it into place.
Though he eventually returned to the bench Cartwright was ruled out for the rest of the game. Whether it was as a precaution or he is out long-term remains to be seen however.
"We'll have to wait and see" was coach Anthony Griffin's only message with regards to Cartwright's condition post-game.
Penrith's abysmal first-half discipline
Penrith unbelievably were penalised 10 times in the first half hour of Sunday's match.
While, in a remarkable turn of events, they weren't penalised for the remainder of the game from there – they certainly looked destined to break all-time records.
The majority of infringements occurred around the half hour mark when the Dragons were handed five consecutive sets on their own line, with any suggestion of a Panther being sin-binned shut down by lead referee Ashley Klein.
"It was a little bit frustrating there, in that naught-to-20 area there were penalties blown and teams usually use it as a spell to prevent quick play-the-balls," McGregor said.
"I'm not saying that's what [Penrith's] tactic was but it happened a few times."