Dragons v Wests Tigers: Five key Points
A fairly dour afternoon at ANZ Stadium saw the high-flying Dragons eke out a tight 16-12 win against the 15th-placed Wests Tigers in a game where both teams defended better than they attacked.
Widdop's timely return
In the three games skipper Gareth Widdop missed with a knee strain, the Dragons lost two games – both against teams that featured in the 2016 Grand Final – with a win in the other game against a poor Warriors side.
Given his explosive return, they'll be relieved they didn't have to endure any more games without him because the skipper was in everything early. His passing, kicking and running games were all on show as he scored both of the tries and all 12 points his team scored in the first half.
"Gaz was the form player of the comp before his injury and he’s done a lot of work over the past five weeks to come back a week early – and I’m glad he did," coach Paul McGregor said after the game.
"He's a total professional about the way he goes in his preparation to play well. The boys get a lot of confidence out of Gaz."
Lolohea's debut rusty but promising
New Tigers five-eighth Tui Lolohea was heavily involved for his new club, and while plenty of it was encouraging there was also a fair bit that was costly.
He got through his tackles but had a defensive misread that contributed to Tyson Frizell's crucial second half try. He had some really nice kicks but a couple of poor passes – especially late in the game once fatigue set in – cost possession at crucial times.
Importantly he didn’t try to overplay his hand and will be better for the run and the signs are promising for the new recruit.
"Yeah he looks pretty underdone, that's for sure," his coach Ivan Cleary admitted after the game.
"He's probably done more this week than he's done for a while… If you're getting cramp in the first half you're in trouble! He's done well to get through the game and he'll only get better."
Teddy tries his guts out
It's not really a surprise that the Origin players backing up for both teams were among the best on ground. Aaron Woods and James Tedesco for the Tigers plus Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell – and Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop – were arguably the best five players on the day across either team.
While he finished on the losing team, you could argue Blues fullback Tedesco was the best of all of them. The energy he showed after a sapping Origin I three nights prior was remarkable and his surging kick return inside the final five minutes set the scene for his team's last try and grandstand finish.
He finished the day with a massive 13 tackle busts, 169 metres and a try assist (via a sublime pass to Kevin Naiqama). He may be Bondi-bound but if his teammates can follow that sort of example for the rest of the year it will only benefit the club moving forward.
Mate against mate as Frizell injured
Speaking of Origin and one of the intriguing sub-plots of Saturday's game was seeing players who were celebrating a great team win together just three nights prior going head to head.
Woods and Frizell met in the middle with each leading their respective packs, until Frizell was forced from the field through injury with scans set to reveal the extend of the damage.
"Tyson Frizell copped an elbow to his pectoral in the second half against the Wests Tigers," St George Illawarra Dragons Head of Athletic Performance Nathan Pickworth said.
"As he is in a fair bit of pain, we want to send him to the hospital for an x-ray for a possible rib fracture. Once we have that scan it'll tell us more information and we'll do any other follow up scans after that."
But perhaps surprisingly it was the duel between the two No.1s that was most eye-catching with each being forced to round up the other in open space.
Dugan played centre for the Blues but back in his preferred position he was the last line of defence for Tedesco's line breaks and Tedesco was forced to return the favour.
He rounded up a free-running Dugan in just the 10th minute in similar fashion to that in which he tackled Maroons winger Dane Gagai on Wednesday night. Tedesco broke past Dugan shortly after halftime and was only denied a try by Joel Thompson but Dugan was good enough in the 77th minute as the last line of defence for Tedesco's long-range kick return.
Tigers points drought over
It's been a quiet few weeks in terms of Wests Tigers point-scoring – before new recruit Tui Lolohea knocked over a penalty goal after the half-time siren against the Dragons - the previous points scored by the club were kicked by current Eels five-eighth Mitch Moses in Round 10.
That conversion – shortly after half-time against the Rabbitohs following an Elijah Taylor try – was followed by 155 scoreless minutes of game time (plus a bye week in Round 12) including a horror 36-0 effort against Brisbane in Round 11.
With a slightly new-look team (NRL debutant Esan Marsters joined Tui Lolohea in playing his first NRL game for the club on Saturday) and an earlier camp aimed at refreshing the side, the performance was a definite improvement on the last start with fans hopeful of brighter days to come.