A State of Origin hangover and the craftiness of Robbie Farah conspired to hand St George Illawarra just their fifth defeat of the Telstra Premiership season as the Wests Tigers defied a large parochial crowd at Jubilee Oval for a 20-16 win.
Two late tries to the home side, through Gareth Widdop and Matt Dufty, put a little starch back into the Dragons scoreline after they trailed 20-6 with just over 15 minutes to play.
But Benji Marshal sent a 40-metre grubber kick into touch to wind down the clock and force the Dragons to come from deep within their territory with 43 seconds left.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor had all five Origin players backing up and the rest of his squad returning after a bye week.
It wasn't easy to immediately pick why such lethargy was on display but the Dragons definitely couldn't keep up with Farah in just his second game back for his beloved Tigers since his mid-season switch from South Sydney.
The 34-year-old was crucial in the Tigers' first three tries – to Luke Brooks, Corey Thompson and David Nofoaluma – with his kicking, dummying and long cut-out passes. The veteran hooker, who has Australian and NSW jerseys in his cupboard, will pick up another honour in playing his 250th NRL game next week – against the Rabbitohs as fate would have it.
The loss doesn't disrupt the Dragons' position in the top-four – they remain in third place – but it was their first loss at a home venue after nine victories.
Centenary-man Brooks celebrated his 100th NRL game by scoring the Tigers' first try in 10th minute after an earlier crossing by Kevin Naiqama off a Brooks grubber was over-ruled when he lost possession during the grounding.
Million-dollar man Ben Hunt replied for the Dragons four minutes later by stepping defenders twice to run around and plant the ball between the posts. At 6-6 it looked like it was going to be that kind of afternoon with tit-for-tat tries, but that remained the score at the half-time break.
It was definitely the afternoon for tries being scuttled by forward passes. James Graham's to put Paul Vaughan in the clear was pulled up by the referees, as was Marshall's for Michael Chee-Kam to stretch out and score – both in the first half.
With only three penalties in the opening 40 minutes, a higher scoreline could have been expected. But three disallowed tries put an end to that.
Widdop had the same hair colour as Jack de Belin, believed to be the result of losing a bet that England would reach the World Cup final in Russia. But the Dragons No.7 lost nothing of his talent, kicking a 40/20 in the 26th minute and being his usual busy self in attack.
His late try in the 69th minute almost pulled off a 'get out of jail' win. But the Tigers earned their win – only their eighth for the year – to move alongside Canberra on 18 competition points, or two wins out from the top eight.
Match: Dragons v Wests Tigers
Round 18 -
Venue: Jubilee Oval
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News & Notes: Luke Brooks played his 100th NRL game… Nene Macdonald damaged his foot in the 31st minute and did not return… Tigers second-rower Chris Lawrence (hamstring) left in the 67th and was done for the day... The loss means the Dragons have still won 13 of their past 16 games at Kogarah... Wests Tigers had not won at this venue since 2005... The Dragons travel to Townsville next weekend for the Cowboys, while the Tigers play the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium… Crowd: 15,992