Two tries from returning skipper Gareth Widdop has helped the Dragons eke out a 16-12 win over a determined Wests Tigers outfit at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers showed plenty of improvement from a horror 36-0 last-start loss to Brisbane and there were some bright signs from new recruit Tui Lolohea who had some nice touches at five-eighth and didn't overplay his hand, mixed with a couple of ordinary passes as some understandable rustiness crept in late in the game.
The Dragons weren’t as dominant as they have been at other times this year but importantly were able to hold on for another valuable two competition points that keeps them entrenched in the top four.
Widdop didn't skip a beat in his return from a knee strain with the England Test pivot scoring all 12 of his team's first-half points.
The first came in the 12th minute when a side-to-side play started by some Kurt Mann footwork finished with Widdop strolling through some flimsy right-edge Tigers defence.
A wonderful length-of-the-field try finished off by Josh Dugan was pulled back for a Jack De Belin offside in the 25th minute but the Dragons added their second try soon after anyway when Jason Nightingale rocked the ball free from Kyle Lovett in a big tackle and Widdop picked up the scraps to scoot 60 metres and score.
A tripping penalty against Joel Thompson as the half-time siren sounded allowed new Tigers recruit Tui Lolohea to score his club's first points since a Mitch Moses conversion in Round 10 to go to the sheds down 12-2.
The Tigers needed to be first to score after the break and got their wish when a Tedesco bullet pass sent Kev Naiqama over in the corner just seven minutes after the resumption.
However the Dragons restored their advantage when a Tigers error gave them field position and impressive rookie Hame Sele held up a beautiful pass to send Tyson Frizell screaming into space to make it 16-6 with 24 minutes to play.
Both teams struggled for fluency in the final quarter of the match; the Dragons' completions were poor and they couldn't find the killer blow to put their opponents away. The Tigers had their share of chances in the Dragons' red-zone but with a makeshift halves combination lacked the fluency to cash in against the resolute Dragons goal-line defence.
A stunning James Tedesco kick return inside the final five minutes from his own dead-ball line saw him eventually rounded up by Origin teammate Josh Dugan on the Tigers 40 metre line and from the ensuing play a beautiful short ball from dummy-half by debutant Esan Marsters sent Michael Chee Kam away for his maiden NRL try.
At 16-12 there were some nervous final moments for Paul McGregor's men but they were able to cling on for the win.
St George Illawarra Dragons 16 (Widdop 2, Frizell tries; Widdop 2 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 12 (Naiqama, Chee Kam tries; Lolohea 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Dragons 12-2. Crowd: 12,983.