Don hat-trick helps Titans down Dragons
The prince and the pauper have conspired to keep the Titans' season alive but the greatest concern out of Friday night's 20-10 win by Gold Coast may well be the fitness of Dragons' Origin pair Tyson Frizell and Josh Dugan who both left the field early in the second half and didn't return.
Trailing 10-4 at half-time, St George Illawarra lost Frizell five minutes into the second half after he struggled through the first 40 minutes with a rib injury and he was joined on the sidelines two minutes later by debutant Blake Lawrie who after a bright start to the half suffered a head knock and played no further part in the contest.
The Dragons' injury concerns became a crisis 12 minutes into the second term when Dugan limped from the field with a suspected hamstring injury that will have Blues coach Laurie Daley anxiously awaiting an update in the coming days.
While the visitors were rocked by injuries to key players it was the Titans' highest paid superstar and their bargain basement winger who did the damage on the scoreboard with Jarryd Hayne's class and the finishing ability of Anthony Don securing two crucial competition points.
After an extraordinary effort to catch an Ash Taylor kick one-handed for his first try Don's second came on the back of a classy touch from Hayne down a short side, the pair linking up again midway through the second half to effectively seal the result.
With the Dragons drastically readjusting their backline Hayne saw an opportunity down a short side in the 54th minute and with a perfectly timed cut-out pass across two Titans hit Don on the chest, the former Grafton Ghost slicing back inside to score the second hat-trick of his career.
An uninspired Dragons attacking performance had just one bright moment in the 58th minute when the introduction of Josh McCrone off the bench straightened their attack and enabled Jason Nightingale to put Kurt Mann over in the corner.
It was their only try of the night however and coach Paul McGregor will now have two weeks to ponder what his best halves combination will be for the latter part of the season as they strive to maintain their place in the top eight.
After a bright start from the Titans with an early shift, the Dragons ripped through the middle of the Gold Coast defence on just their third tackle of the game, an inside pass from Jack de Belin to Josh Dugan taking them down inside the 30-metre line and earning a penalty in the ruck for a 2-0 lead after two minutes.
On the back of two resets of the tackle count the Titans took a gamble early in the set and were rewarded thanks to the one-handed acrobatics of Don, who reined in an Ash Taylor kick with his right arm as opposite number Jason Nightingale was hanging off his left to score his sixth try of the season in astonishing fashion.
The two opportunities the Dragons had to start sets inside the Titans' 20-metre line inside the first 20 minutes both ended with errors on the first tackle and when the Titans looked certain to score in the 24th minute Nathan Peats spilled a pass from Konrad Hurrell just to the right of the posts.
A bust from Tariq Sims again sparked by de Belin saw the Dragons go 80 metres but rather than push for their first try Widdop slotted his second penalty goal to level the scores at 4-all but they fell behind again seven minutes later when a well-worked Titans move down the short side saw Don snare his second.
With Hayne parked to the right of the ruck Taylor shifted to the blindside and a superb no-look tip-on from the Titans fullback gave Hurrell enough time and space to put Don over in the corner.
The Dragons had a golden opportunity to score late in the first half when Don and Hurrell both made errors inside their own 20-metre line but again they came up empty, Hayne defusing the situation with a clean-up of a Widdop kick with his team under all sorts of pressure.
Gold Coast Titans 20 (Anthony Don 3 tries; Tyrone Roberts 3, Ashley Taylor goals) def. St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Kurt Mann try; Gareth Widdop 3 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Half-time: Titans 10-4. Crowd: 13,140. Holden Cup: Titans 26-24.
NRL.com unofficial votes: 3 points: Jarryd Hayne. 2 points: Anthony Don. 1 point: Jack de Belin.