St George Illawarra have announced themselves as the real deal in 2018 with a powerful 34-14 win over a very scrappy Storm outfit at a packed Jubilee Oval on Sunday afternoon.
While the Storm were left unhappy with some curious officiating in the first half, the reigning Telstra Premiership winners did themselves no favours with a host of errors at both ends of the field including simple handling errors and forward passes.
Josh Addo-Carr and Euan Aitken further pressed their claims of an Holden State of Origin debut for NSW as Aitken bagged a double and Addo-Carr a hat-trick. He now has nine tries in his past four games.
Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes scored a clever try out of dummy half to put himself at the top of the NSW Blues hooking queue.
Storm skipper Cameron Smith remonstrated with the officials after Josh Addo-Carr crossed for an apparent try in the corner only for the play to be pulled back to the original spot, where Storm was awarded a penalty for an infringement on Sam Kasiano.
Match: Dragons v Storm
Round 9 -
Venue: Jubilee Oval
The first half saw an energetic opening from the Dragons as they went up 10-0 in the 15th minute courtesy of two penalty goals and a strong Aitken try off a nicely delayed Ben Hunt short ball.
The Storm had struggled to get any possession or field position but easily sliced through the Dragons' right side defence on their first real attacking chance to make it 10-4 inside 20 minutes.
From there the remainder of the half descended into a scrappy affair with plenty of penalties and both teams struggling badly to even complete a set.
Shortly after the Addo-Carr no try – which could have made it 10-all in the 30th minute – the Referees' Bunker correctly overturned a try awarded to Cameron Munster for a double movement after he burrowed over from dummy half.
More scrappy play from both sides eventually resulted in a third penalty goal for Widdop a minute before half time with the Dragons holding a comfortable 12-4 lead.
McInnes darted over just two minutes from the resumption after Smith stayed down in a tackle (due to an apparent hit to the groin) leaving a gap in the defensive line.
Tim Lafai made it 24-4 in the 48th minute from a well-worked short-side play and it took until the 63rd minute for the Storm to get their second try of the game through that man Addo-Carr to give themselves a sniff of a comeback.
It wasn't to be as the home team skipped further away through Aitken's second try and yet another penalty goal to send the raucous 19,173-strong home crowd into full voice.
A late consolation try to Addo-Carr sealed his hat-trick, but Widdop's fifth penalty goal after the full time siren finalised the 34-14 margin. Widdop kicked nine from nine goals in total to contribute 18 points.
The Dragons now sit alone atop the Telstra Premiership ladder with eight wins and one loss while the Storm cling to fourth place but with their back-to-back title hopes dented from the convincing loss.
News & Notes... Crowd 19,173 at Jubilee Oval... Justin Olam made his NRL debut after graduating from PNG Hunters roster in 2016... young hooker Reece Robson given NRL debut off bench for Dragons as coach Paul McGregor prepares to be without Camrton McInnes during Origin... Josh Addo-Carr scored at least two tries for the fourth time in four straight games... Storm at home to Titans next week... Dragons away to Rabbitohs next week.