Despite a bright start from the Dragons the Wests Tigers dominated through the middle part of the game to run out convincing 25-12 winners.
No Farah, no worries
After the highly-publicised demotion of beloved hooker Robbie Farah to reserve grade this week – and Farah's dominant showing in that Intrust Super Premiership win at Leichhardt on Saturday – the challenge for the Tigers was always going to be to push that aside, show up and get on the with the job.
They performed that task with aplomb and while one win doesn't solve the question of whether Farah's demotion was the best move for the club or not, the early signs were good.
Retiring veteran Dene Halatau played his understated hand with the same professionalism he does everything else. Utility back and occasional playmaker Jordan Rankin filled in at dummy-half when needed in attack. Young halves Mitch Moses and Luke Brooks led the side around and came up with some big plays and stamped their authority on the contest.
To his credit, coach Jason Taylor wasn't backing away from his unpopular call nor did he attempt to claim vindication after one win.
"It was never going to boil down to just this game and the result on the scoreboard and I've had to work hard at saying that over the last few days," Taylor said.
"I don't think it's about vindication but it's about a direction that I wanted to see the team keep moving toward and I saw that today. It impacts both our attack and our defence and our defence was really strong there today."
Attacking woes continue for Dragons as Tigers muscle up in defence
The Dragons actually threw a fair bit at their opponents and for fair stretches of Sunday afternoon's contest looked an improved side to the one that was easily disposed of by the Titans and Sea Eagles in its previous two starts.
But the final ledger showed just two tries in 80 minutes and another loss as the Tigers did a good job of holding their try-line intact.
Coach Paul McGregor said there were a few factors stymying their attack at the moment, including inconsistency in their key playmaking roles.
"The cohesion hasn't been there for a while now. We haven't had the regular nine, seven, six and one [available]," McGregor said.
"'Duges' (fullback Josh Dugan) is still out at the moment. Benji (halfback Benji Marshall) didn't play last week, he's only played half the games this year, the nine [Mitch Rein] is off contract, probably a few things going through his mind at the moment.
"All those things are destabilising what we want to do. We brought a new attacking coach in from North Queensland this year. All changes like that have a bearing on how you want to play. At the moment they're having an effect on us scoring points."
Added Taylor: "Wests Tigers aren't known for that sort of win, it's a gritty performance and some really good defence and we kept turning the Dragons away and that's really exciting, that we were able to win a game like that."
Five minutes of brilliance from Moses turns the game
After going into half-time with a 10-point lead, the Tigers had to weather a huge storm early in the second half as the Dragons launched a major assault on their line. Having managed to escape that period unscathed, it was important to kick on and five-eighth Mitch Moses provided the impetus.
A clean line break almost led to one try and when desperate Dragons defence hung on on that occasion he booted a hugely impressive 40/20 kick from the next set – slicing across the ball to skew it into touch inside his opponents' 20-metre zone – to set his side back on the attack before calling for the ball, challenging the line and producing a wonderful offload to push Josh Aloiai over and a match-winning 22-8 lead.
Then three minutes from time with his side 12 in front Moses nailed the field goal that removed any shred of doubt over his side's victory in what was a mature and assured performance.
Young backs enthuse McGregor
There were a handful of positives for Dragons fans despite another loss and one of those was a pair of encouraging games from rookie backs Adam Quinlan and second gamer Taane Milne.
Quinlan has had a few stints in first grade but showed plenty of vision to set up the opening try of the game with a nice cut-out pass and did well supporting a Milne break late in the game to score his side's other try. Milne was damaging throughout with ball in hand, not least in his late line break for Quinlan's try, and finished with team-high 154 metres, three tackle breaks and a whopping seven offloads.
"They've been playing some good footy in reserve grade and they got an opportunity and I think that's a real good way of looking at today, if you look at those two players," McGregor said.
"Taane was probably our best because he didn't carry anything into the game, he just wanted to go out there and play his natural game of footy and he did that well and caused the Tigers a few headaches and 'Quinny' at the back had nice touches so they were two of the real positives to come out of the game."
Tiger injuries: Grant OK but Lawrence in doubt
The fact the Tigers were able to seal the win after losing two players in the first half was impressive in itself. Tim Grant's concussion after wearing a Leeson Ah Mau shoulder barely a minute after running onto the field was a huge blow and there was a long delay as he was assessed then stretchered off.
The club later said he appeared to be OK and was walking around and talking and may be fit to face the Eels next week.
However Lawrence – who was interchanged at half-time – left the sheds in a moon boot and is in doubt.
"I'm confident Tim's going to be OK but he'd only just gone on so that knocked us around a fair bit and then we lost Chris Lawrence at half-time and there's a bit of concern about Chris's lower leg there so we'll see where that all finishes up," Taylor said.