Dugan try seals dramatic Dragons victory
Josh Dugan's 76th-minute try has seen the Dragons record a late 14-12 victory over the Panthers in an otherwise underwhelming game in front of the Wollongong faithful on Sunday afternoon.
With the scores locked up at 2-all after 53 minutes the game only managed to get out of the second gear when Euan Aitken crossed for the game's first try.
Matching the dour proceedings the Panthers were left licking their wounds with Bryce Cartwright (thumb) and Will Smith (concussion) failing to finish the game.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor was full of praise for his charges following the match, claiming the Round 3 win over South Sydney drained his side.
"It was a real grinding game, and we ended up getting the result after a tough seven days," McGregor said. "That game last Sunday took a fair bit out of us, as it took out of the Rabbitohs. You could see that on Friday. There was a part in the second half where both teams were under the pump and were looking tired. But they just kept finding something for one another which was outstanding."
In what proved an unhappy homecoming for former Dragon Trent Merrin, he at least provided the impetus behind Penrith's first try in the 60th minute, which allowed centre Peta Hiku to score his fourth try in his first four games as a Panther.
With the scores level at 8-all, Penrith's Will Smith was left seeing stars in the 71st minute. The fullback came off second best following a head clash with Joel Thompson, the referees placing the Dragons back-rower on report for a shoulder charge.
Off the back of Smith's misfortune, Penrith hit the lead for the first time in the 73rd minute when Jamie Soward sent Josh Mansour over in the corner. Though the five-eighth's failure to convert would soon come back to haunt his side.
The Panthers' inability to latch on to Gareth Widdop's kick-off proved the away team's undoing, and in the 76th minute Dugan backed himself on a last-tackle play to slam the ball down over the try-line, with Widdop's conversion in the end proving the difference.
The point-scoring began and ended off the boot of the Dragons skipper, St George Illawarra taking the lead in the 11th minute – which they maintained through to half-time – thanks to Widdop's penalty goal.
It came three minutes after Jason Nightingale was controversially denied a 65-metre runaway try after it was ruled his strip on Penrith centre Waqa Blake was deemed a two-on-one tackle by the bunker.
Defence proved crucial in the first 40 and it was no better exemplified than the Dragons' failure to score despite having five sets on Penrith line with the visitors conceding 10 penalties by the 30th minute.
While Jamie Soward levelled up the scoreline with a penalty goal of his own in the 43rd minute, it came with the bad news of Cartwright's dislocated thumb.
St George Illawarra Dragons 14 (Euan Aitken, Josh Dugan tries; Gareth Widdop 3 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 12 (Peta Hiku, Josh Mansour tries, Jamie Soward 2 goals) at WIN Stadium. Crowd: 12,983. Half-time: Dragons 2-0. On Report: Joel Thompson (Dragons), Mike Cooper (Dragons). Injuries: Bryce Cartwright (Panthers) – thumb; Euan Aitken (Dragons) – corked thigh; Will Smith (Panthers) – concussion.