Dragons too good for Warriors
Outstanding performances from Paul Vaughan and Josh Dugan have guided St George Illawarra to a comfortable 26-12 victory over an error-riddled New Zealand Warriors at UOW Jubilee Oval.
The much-anticipated return of Kieran Foran was over before it even began after the 26-year-old suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up with Blake Ayshford a late inclusion.
Foran's withdrawal saw Ayshford shift to the centres with Tuimoala Lolohea playing five-eighth alongside Shaun Johnson.
After three early tries to Paul McGregor's men in the opening stanza and leading 20-8 at half-time, the Dragons defended their way to victory as the Warriors side began to throw the ball around late in the game.
Dugan was instrumental for the Red V with over 180 metres and a crucial four-pointer midway through the first half, while Euan Aitken was damaging at right centre keeping hard-running Solomone Kata quiet for the 80 minutes.
An early error from Roger Tuivasa-Scheck gifted the Dragons an early chance to attack before a high shot from Issac Luke enabled a penalty goal to Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop for a two-point lead after three minutes.
The Warriors returned serve with a penalty goal of their own five minutes later when in-form prop Paul Vaughan was penalised for a lifting tackle on Simon Mannering 30 metres out from the line.
Two errors following the game-leveller from the Warriors allowed the Dragons to take full advantage with Johnson throwing a forward pass and Ayshford fumbling a ball close to the line.
St George Illawarra took advantage and Vaughan charged over under the posts for the opening try in the 12th minute after a clutch short ball from Cameron McInnes.
Vaughan was in a commanding mood against the Warriors' forward pack in the opening half, running for 102 metres with 21 tackles in a 30-minute stint before finishing the game with over 186 metres and six tackle breaks.
Paul McGregor's side were over again off the back of another Warriors error when Ken Maumalo was ruled to have lost the ball returning a Widdop kick with Dugan picking up the scraps and finding halfback Josh McCrone who managed to wrestle his way and get the ball down.
There was another nervous moment for Maumalo the following set when he threw the ball over the head of Tuivasa-Scheck that would have left Warriors coach Stephen Kearney less than impressed with the winger's start to the contest.
Things got worse for the visitors when a simple offload from Jack de Belin had Dugan into open space for the Red V's third after the Australian international split the Warriors up the middle and stepped inside Tuivasa-Sheck to go over under the posts and blow the lead out to three converted tries midway through the first half.
An error from Dragons winger Nene MacDonald finally allowed the Warriors some field position and former Kiwi hooker Issac Luke burrowed his way under Widdop and Joel Thompson to jag a try back and narrow the Dragons' lead before the break.
Kearney's outfit needed a strong start in the second half to have any chance of a change in fortunes and the visitors got their wish with Dugan making an error from the restart to kick off the last 40 minutes.
After a shaky opening half, Maumalo finished off a sublime Johnson cutout pass to go over in the corner and get within eight of the Dragons five minutes into the second stanza.
A late shot from Sam Lisone on Widdop handed the momentum back and the English international would ensure the Warriors were made to pay by keeping the ball alive for Tim Lafai to step his way to the try line.
Widdop's 55th minute goal was the 28-year-old's 500th in Dragons colours and his ten-point tally saw the former Storm half surpass Matt Cooper as the club's third highest point scorer.
Strong defence from Dugan and Widdop turned the Warriors away again as the visitors began to throw the ball around trailing by more than two-converted tries.
Johnson split the Dragons up the middle with a brutal left step but the last pass went to ground, before the Kiwi international timed a perfectly placed kick for David Fusitua to spill under pressure from Jason Nightingale in another sign the Dragons defence was scrambling with less than a quarter of the game to go.
Bodene Thompson was the next to spill a Johnson pass with the try-line in sight as the error rate blew out to 18 for Kearney's men with seven minutes remaining, before the Dragons finished the game under Widdop's control.
Dragons 26 (Paul Vaughan, Josh McCrone, Josh Dugan, Tim Lafai tries; Gareth Widdop 5 goals) defeated Warriors 12 (Issac Luke, Ken Maumalo tries; Shaun Johnson 2 goals) at UOW Jubilee Oval. Half-time: Dragons 20-8. Crowd: 11,608.