It was a "scratchy performance", in the words of coach Anthony Griffin, but one that Dragons debutants Mat Feagai and Junior Amone won't soon forget after they scored in Sunday's 32-12 win over the Bulldogs.
While the first half at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium was characterised by errors, St George Illawarra's superior class prevailed as Canterbury lost Lachlan Lewis (lung) and Corey Allan (head/neck) to injuries that sent them to hospital.
Feagai, 20, limped off with 10 minutes remaining due to a high-ankle sprain but could play next week. He shared the experience with his twin brother, Max, who lined up on the opposite flank.
Amone, a highly rated 19-year-old playmaker, was called onto the bench and played the last 16 minutes just a week after featuring in the Steelers' SG Ball under-19 grand final loss to the Raiders.
"It was a big night for our club," Griffin said.
Match: Dragons v Bulldogs
Round 9 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
"We've got a lot down injured at the moment. To bring two [youngsters] in that hadn’t played first grade before – particularly Junior coming from the under 19s into first grade - it was just really good for them individually but [also] for the team and our club to be able to debut players and see them play like that."
Off-contract fullback Matt Dufty bagged a double and five-eighth Corey Norman also crossed the stripe, though Griffin said the club were "nowhere at the moment" regarding the potential retention of the pair.
"We'll have a look at that over the next few weeks," he said.
Match Highlights: Dragons v Bulldogs
The scoreline was comfortable in the end, but a huge Magic Round challenge awaits the sixth-placed Dragons - one of only six teams with a winning record - in the way of a red-hot Melbourne.
"They're the form team of the competition with the way they took apart South Sydney [50-0] the other night," Griffin said.
"It'll be a good test for us but it's a test obviously we need. To take us to another level, you've got to be able compete at that level."
Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett replaced halfback Kyle Flanagan with Lewis at half-time, only to bring him back into the action when Allan was stretchered from the field at the 60th-minute mark.
Dufty's 22nd-minute try from a slick set play was a rare highlight in the error-riddled start to proceedings.
Norman turned Jack Bird underneath him before the centre linked with the livewire No.1, who stepped past Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Hunt sends Mathew Feagai over
Flanagan potentially cost Canterbury an earlier try when he kicked cross-field on tackle zero instead of passing when they had an overlap on the right edge. The ball went out of the full.
With Lewis given a chance to run the show when the action resumed for the second term, the Bulldogs dominated possession yet found themselves unable to crack St George Illawarra's wall.
And when Feagai crossed from a Ben Hunt pass in the 53rd minute, sending the crowd into raptures, the Dragons were in control.
Amone gets his first NRL try
After Canterbury sent the resulting kick-off out on the full, Bird was first on the scene to a Hunt grubber and seemingly scored. The Bunker found a knock-on, but that worked out well for the Dragons.
Will Hopoate was sin-binned for impeding Bird before prop Paul Vaughan crashed over to extend the lead despite the NRL Bunker reviewing an obstruction on Luke Thompson after Hunt stood in the line.
Barrett queried the decision in his post-match press conference.
Bunker awards try to Vaughan
Norman crossed in the 63rd minute, backing up after a well-worked left-edge shift, then Dufty did the same up the middle to grab his double in the next set from a Billy Burns bust to wrap up the result.
Bulldogs duo Renouf Atoni and Nick Meaney bagged opportunistic tries either side of Amone’s touchdown to salvage some pride.
The hosts were kitted out in a "blood and bandages" jersey worn by the inaugural 1921 team as part of the St George side of the joint venture's centenary celebrations.
"It wasn't a great performance, We got ourselves into a lot of trouble in that first half with ill-discipline with the ball," Griffin said.
"Defensively, we hung in really good. The first 20 or 25 minutes of that second half we got into a bit of [attacking] rhythm."
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