Points galore as Dragons thump Manly
The Dragons have survived a ferocious second-half fightback to defeat the Sea Eagles 52-22 in a huge boost to their top-eight hopes.
The Red V looked home and hosed with a 30-0 lead at the break only for a Manly side missing Blake Green and Brenton Lawrence to turn the game on its head in the space of 12 action-packed minutes.
Needing a miracle to get back into the contest, Trent Barrett's half-time words must have worked because the Sea Eagles came out a different team after the break with a try to Dylan Walker from their first set.
The last thing the Sea Eagles needed was to lose Darcy Lussick to the sin bin for throwing punches but they didn't let the numerical disadvantage slow them down when his brother, Joey Lussick, crashed over for a try on debut.
Manly's resurgence continued from the very next set when Jake Trbojevic barged over from close range and then Akuila Uate soared through the air to score again to make it 30-22 after a freakish 12-minute burst from the visitors.
Just when it looked like Manly were about to storm home, Dragons winger Nene Macdonald came up with a huge take in his own in-goal to get his side some much-needed possession which they turned into points when debutant Matt Dufty found a flying Paul Vaughan to crash over for a settling four-pointer.
Having stalled Manly's momentum, Paul McGregor's men finally made sure of the result when Widdop and Dufty combined to send Jason Nightingale over for his second of the afternoon before Euan Aitken collected a Macdonald grubber to complete his double.
There was time for one last reason to celebrate for the 16,883 in attendance when Dufty capped an outstanding debut to burn the defence to score a thoroughly-deserved try at the death.
Earlier, the Dragons suffered a setback in the warm-up with Joel Thompson ruled out after picking up an ankle injury while the Sea Eagles were dealt a blow when youngster Brad Parker was forced off for an HIA test inside the opening three minutes which he ultimately passed.
Nightingale couldn't believe his luck when he was allowed to take a Josh McCrone cross-field kick uncontested to open the scoring after eight minutes.
Nightingale almost had his second when he flew through the air in a bid to reel in in a Gareth Widdop chip, and while he was unable to claim the Steeden, teammate Tim Lafai was on hand to ground the loose ball to make it 12-0.
A terrific run by Uate had the Sea Eagles hot on the attack and it looked as though they were set to score when Daly Cherry-Evans played short to a flying Shaun Lane only for Widdop to intervene and race away to score an 80-metre intercept try.
Having watched the left edge have all the early fun, the Dragons' right side showed they are just as effective when given a chance as Macdonald soared through the air and batted back a kick to Aitken who touched down to make it 24-0.
Dragons fans would have been happy with that first-half scoreline but they were given one more reason to roar when Widdop nailed a 40/20 and then played short to send Jacob Host over to leave the capacity crowd in raptures at the break.
Dragons 52 (Jason Nightingale 2, Euan Aitken 2, Tim Lafai, Gareth Widdop, Jacob Host, Paul Vaughan, Matt Dufty tries; Gareth Widdop 8 goals) def. Sea Eagles 22 (Dylan Walker, Joey Lussick, Jake Trbojevic, Akuila Uate tries; Daly Cherry-Evans 2, Jackson Hastings goals) at WIN Stadium. Half-time: 30-0. Crowd: 16,883.
NRL.com unofficial votes: 3 points - Gareth Widdop; 2 points - Jack de Belin; 1 point - Matt Dufty.