A week after looking frustrated and disinterested against the Broncos, St George Illawarra five-eighth Gareth Widdop engineered a much needed win over the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday.
Widdop broke a 171-minute point-scoring drought for his team when he took it upon himself to crack the Titans defence from close range in the eighth minute and then iced the 19-14 victory with a field goal three minutes from full-time.
The Dragons’ No.6 gave his side some nervous moments when he accidentally clipped Titans half Ashley Taylor high for which he was placed on report, but for 79 minutes he gave the type of captain’s performance that a team down on confidence so desperately needs.
Despite trailing by seven points the Titans opted to take the two points on offer from the Widdop penalty that - with the clock stopped - gave them 43 seconds to try and steal victory, a quest that came unstuck when Josh Dugan covered up a David Mead kick on the Dragons’ 30-metre line and raced it into touch.
The Dragons’ misfiring attack dominated all pre-game discussion but it was St George Illawarra’s defence early in the second half that provided the foundation of the win.
Trailing 18-6 at half-time the Titans hammered away at the Dragons’ line for the opening 12 minutes of the second half but were repelled with every raid. A Dugan ankle tap was all that stood between Mead and an 80-metre try and then some desperation from three Dragons defenders stopped Nene Macdonald from scoring after he climbed to take a Tyrone Roberts cross-field kick.
Anthony Don had a shot when he also rose above the pack to take a Roberts bomb but the bat-back was intercepted by Widdop who sent Dugan into open space from his own goal-line.
Even with centre Euan Aitken sidelined inside 30 minutes with a hamstring injury Will Matthews and Josh McCrone kept the frequent attacks by the Titans down the left side of the field in check as Gold Coast desperately tried to get Josh Hoffman in space.
After hammering away from close range for much of the second half a wide shift right from deep inside their own half saw the Titans finally break the shackles when Tyrone Roberts dummied his way through the Dragons defensive line from 40-metres out to score untouched under the posts 13 minutes from full-time, Widdop’s field goal enough to keep his side out of reach in the final few minutes.
Although they had gone a fortnight without tasting success the Dragons attack started in a positive fashion and it was the captain who broke the drought in the eighth minute.
With players on his outside and the Titans’ defensive line stretched Widdop stepped back hard off his left foot and reached out with his left hand to punish a sloppy Gold Coast team who had completed just one of their three opening sets.
If the Dragons were feeling good about themselves it lasted a matter of seconds as Josh McCrone fumbled the Tyrone Roberts kick-off. That gave the Titans possession inside their 10-metre line and after two penalties Agnatius Paasi crawled across on his hands and knees to score in the most unusual of fashion.
Having waited an eternity for their first try the Dragons’ second took just 13 more minutes and came on the back of a terrible end to a Titans attacking set. A poor kick from rookie Ashley Taylor gifted the Dragons a seven-tackle set and again they were good enough to make Gold Coast pay.
A Dugan bust was followed up by a penalty and then four tackles into their next set St George Illawarra scored when former Titan Kalifa Faifai Loa raced through to grab a grubber kick into the in-goal from Josh McCrone.
McCrone and Widdop continued to terrorise the Titans’ back three with grubber kicks into the in-goal that when they weren’t earning repeat sets were contributing to points, Widdop bouncing one off the left upright for Jack de Belin to snatch and score under the posts in the 31st minute.
Along with Widdop Titans forward Ryan James was placed on report for a possible crusher tackle on Josh Dugan in the 22nd minute.
St George Illawarra 19 (Gareth Widdop, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Jack de Belin tries; Widdop 3 goals, field goal) def. Gold Coast Titans 14 (Agnatius Paasi, Tyrone Roberts tries; Ashley Taylor 2, Tyrone Roberts goals). Half-time: Dragons 18-6. Crowd: 12, 215. On report: Ryan James (Titans); Gareth Widdop (Dragons). Holden Cup: Titans 39-32.