Dominant Dragons blitz sloppy Sea Eagles
James Graham ensured he avoided the end-of-season nudie run when he became the last regular member of the St George Illawarra starting line-up to score a try as the Dragons regained outright lead of the Telstra Premiership following a 32-8 defeat of Manly at WIN Stadium.
Graham and utility Kurt Mann, who started his second consecutive match on the wing, were the last of the 15 players who have featured in all 14 matches so far for St George Illawarra to score as the hosts romped to their 11th win of the season.
The victory equals the Dragons best start to a season in 2010, when they won 11 matches in the opening 15 rounds before going on to win the grand final.
Match: Dragons v Sea Eagles
Round 15 -
Venue: WIN Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Coach Paul McGregor now faces the prospect of up to 11 of his squad playing representative matches next weekend, with Graham and captain Gareth Widdop having been named in the England team to play New Zealand in Denver.
Interchange forward Leeson Ah Mau is also expected to be in the Kiwis team, while winger Jason Nightingale is a shadow player.
Dragons centre Tim Lafai is likely to play for Samoa in next Saturday night's Pacific Test against Tonga and winger Nene McDonald has been named in the Papua New Guinea squad to play Fiji.
NSW forwards Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell came through unscathed and they were in the Blues team announced on Saturday night, along with Tariq Sims, while Ben Hunt is expected to again be Queensland halfback.
The representative players will join their respective team camps full of confidence after helping the Dragons move two points clear of Penrith, South Sydney and the Warriors as outright competition leaders following their defeat of Manly.
"That's the third game in 11 days for our Origin players, we were on a five day turn with our main squad so to play that type of footy against a side which are very capable of scoring points and to keep them to one try, defensively we were very good," McGregor said.
"Our line speed got stronger and stronger as the game went on and that is important for us because that is an area we have improved and we continued that tonight and I thought as the game went on we got better.
However, the match wasn't as lopsided as the scoreline suggests and after opening the scoring with a seventh minute penalty goal by Widdop it took the home side another 20 minutes before they crossed for the first try of the match.
In between, the Sea Eagles had looked threatening and Tyson Frizell prevented one try scoring opportunity when Tom Trbojevic passed to him after a long range Manly break, presumably because he had heard a call from his NSW Origin team-mate.
St George Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty saved what would have been a certain try when he held up former team-mate Joel Thompson over the try line and rolled him onto his back to prevent the second rower from getting the ball down.
A 22nd minute Trent Hodkinson penalty goal levelled the scores at 2-2 but the Dragons replied with the first try of the game just five minutes later when Dufty stepped inside Manly winger Akuila Uate and threw a cut out pass for Kurt Mann to score in the corner.
Dragons centre Tim Lafai put his side further ahead in the 31st minute when he raced down the blindside from dummy half and stepped around Brad Parker, who had come on as a replacement after Moses Suli left the field with a sternum injury.
Yet despite a first half completion rate of 95 per cent and boasting a 59 per cent share possession, the home team led just 10-8 after 20-year-old Manly utility Tom Wright dummied past Widdop and sprinted clear to score his first NRL try in the 35th minute.
A try by Tariq Sims in the seconds before halftime gave the Dragons a 16-8 lead at the interval and they took control in the second half to give their fans in the 13,069 crowd reason to celebrate.
Widdop scored in the 46th minute after pouncing on a grubber from halfback Ben Hunt into the Sea Eagles in goal and England team-mate James Graham scored his first try in the Red V jersey when he forced his way over 10 minutes later.
Graham's try came after Jack de Belin picked up a loose ball near his own try line and raced into the clear before being pulled down 50 metres down field.
Handling errors hurt Manly and they completed just 10 of their 19 sets of possession in the second half, while missing 31 tackles.
Dragons winger Nene McDonald completed a comprehensive 32-8 win for his team when he scored off a Hunt kick in the 72nd minute.
"Full credit to them, they are a very good team but I didn't think the score really reflected the contest at times," Manly coach Trent Barrett said. "Our completions in the second half were really bad if you consider the dents that we were puttying in them, if we had of executed better on the back of that we could have won the game."