The St George Illawarra Dragons moved into second spot on the ladder with a convincing 28-6 win over a frustrated and at-times rudderless Tigers outfit at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Defence turns into attack for Red V
The Dragons – the second-worst point-scoring club of 2016 – maintained their status as the attack kings of 2017 and now have 128 points in five games. It is the best attack (next-best Canberra, 120 points) and their plus-56 is the best points differential (just ahead of Melbourne's plus-54). But impressively, their 72 points conceded is the second best after the Storm (a miserly 54 conceded in five games) meaning they well and truly deserve their current second-place billing on the NRL ladder.
"Our goal line 'D' was special today," coach Paul McGregor said.
"We had seven line breaks today which is nice and scored some points but the boys had to work hard to get those points.
"We only got down the other end three times in the first half and came away with three tries so they're certainly very comfortable with the clarity around their role they need to play in attack."
Tigers frustrated as opportunities go begging
Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco went close to scoring twice in the first five minutes, being held short once then dropping the ball over the line under heavy defence. He also grounded a would-be try from a Mitch Moses grubber shortly before half-time but was caught fractionally offside.
There was a huge turnaround at 14-6 midway through the second half when rookie winger Moses Suli failed to pick up a tricky bouncing ball for a possible try with the Dragons scoring at the end of the next set.
Tigers interim coach Andrew Webster said the team failed to respond adequately in picking themselves up for a defensive set after the disappointment of missing a scoring play.
"We had plenty of ball, we had plenty of opportunities on their line," he said.
"We either didn't execute or got disheartened with what we were doing. We dropped the ball over the line and then they go down our end and score. We've got to execute better but we've got to get on with the next job and that's to defend. We can't keep thinking about that. They were up 14-0 but we had enough opportunities to score points there in the first half and the second half."
Another set-back for luckless Ballin
Wests Tigers hooker Matt Ballin – who has barely played in two seasons thanks to consecutive ACL injuries – played just 12 minutes against the Dragons after suffering a possible injury to his other knee.
The former Sea Eagle came on in the 28th minute and provided crisp service from dummy-half but did not return from the half-time break. However early indications was that it was not as serious as previous injuries with the hooker walking unassisted from the sheds after the game.
"We're not sure [how serious it is] yet," Webster said.
"It's not the knee that he's had problems with, it's his other knee. We don't know how serious it is at the moment. He was trying to push off it and he was struggling to so at half time we made the call not to let him go back out there. We don't want to put him in jeopardy at the moment but we're not sure how serious it is."
Dugan ruled out with hamstring strain
The same play in which Suli couldn't quite clean up a kick for a try-scoring play saw Dragons fullback Josh Dugan racing across to try and stop him and pull up lame, clutching his left hamstring. He immediately left the field with Kurt Mann taking over at the back and his coach said the Kangaroos star was no chance of facing Manly next week but wouldn't speculate on how much longer he may be out.
"No good mate, he's hurt his hammy," was McGregor's blunt assessment.
"I don't know how bad it is but he felt it straight away. We'll just have to gauge that tomorrow through a scan but he won't be right next week.
"He's in ice there, he's in good spirits but disappointed."
McGregor was hopeful centre Euan Aitken would be back from his own hamstring strain to face the Sea Eagles.
 Dugan Josh - Dragons
Widdop and Nightingale form dream combo
Every one of veteran winger Jason Nightingale's three first-half tries was either directly or partially created by skipper Gareth Widdop, who is enjoying one almighty career resurgence after his ability was questioned constantly through 2016.
For his part, Nightingale had to show plenty of skill to finish off those tries in what was a fine all-round game (he saved one try, defused four kicks and ran for 147 metres with four tackle busts) to earn the praise of his coach.
"He's a quality player, a dual international. I was talking to 'Gypsy' through the week, I thought his game's been building and it wasn't unexpected what he came up with today," McGregor said.
For his part Widdop credited the platform laid by the forwards for his own form spike.
"When you've got good go-forward it makes it easier as a back for me, Josh (halfback Josh McCrone) and 'Duges' (Dugan) but we can still improve which is a good sign.
"The forwards are laying the platform for us and as halves it's about playing what you see and I suppose a bit of freedom to roam the field and I'm enjoying it. It's working well for us."