The St George Illawarra Dragons have defeated the Mackay Cutters 14-12 at Mackay Stadium on Saturday.
The Red-and-Whites notched three tries in the opening pre-season fixture courtesy of Dane Nielsen, Andrew McCarthy and Junior Vai Vai.
Dragons Assistant Head Coach Dean Young named a 22-man squad for the encounter against the Queensland Cup opponents which included Dragons NRL and NYC players as well as several others from the Illawarra Cutters.
The entire travelling squad had the opportunity to test themselves in the competitive environment which was played across three period intervals.
The Dragons, who wore black armbands in honour of the recent sad events in the Mackay community, were held scoreless in the initial stanza of play despite having large parts of possession.
The Dragons forward-pack, featuring prop Rory O’Brien and George Rose, caused several issues for the hosts throughout the period of play but were met themselves by some heavy hits courtesy of the Cutters.
Meanwhile, Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop, who captained the team for the fixture, linked with halfback Drew Hutchison to move the ball around the field and orchestrated several near-scoring opportunities for wingers Charly Runciman and Tyrone Cranston.
Dragons Assistant Coach Dean Young made several changes to personnel when second period play commenced which included new recruit Kris Keating replacing Hutchison at halfback and Leeson Ah Mau swapping with O’Brien in the forward-pack.
The changes had their desired effect and seven minutes into the restart the Dragons claimed the lead courtesy of new recruit Dane Nielsen.
The Dragons centre, a native of Mackay, was the beneficiary of Widdop’s cut-out pass out to the right and complemented his teammate’s accuracy with a bracing run down the right-edge.
However, the four-point lead was to be short-lived as the Cutters replied to even-up proceedings through utility Damon Koostra just ajar of the half-hour mark.
Cutters halfback Rex Johnson converted to make it 6-4.
The Dragons were unable to claw back the deficit and entered the final period of play trailing by two points.
Dragons Assistant Coach Dean Young made several further changes to personnel when final period play started which included Hutchison returning in lieu of Widdop and Rulon Nutira for Trent Merrin.
Despite the changes, it was second-rower Andrew McCarthy who seized the moment to notch a four-pointer of his own and reclaim the lead for the Dragons in the 51st minute.
However, the effort of the Illawarra Cutters regular was negated a minute late by the speed of Cutters winger Jordan Periera who crossed the stripe to reclaim the lead for the hosts.
Fellow Cutters winger Buchnan Rawhiti converted to make it 12-8.
However, the visitors continued to push forward and eventually evened-up affairs through winger Junior Vai Vai on the hour mark.
The Illawarra Cutters winger featured in only the final third of the fixture but his leggy run down the right edge was enough to get his name on the score sheet.
Hutchison converted to make it 14-12.
The Dragons managed to hold for the win despite some late pressure created by the Cutters.
St George Illawarra Dragons 14. Tries: Nielsen, McCarthy, Vai Vai. Goals: Widdop (0/1) Cranston (0/1), Hutchison (1/1).
Mackay Cutters 12. Tries: Koolstra, Pereira. Goals: Johnson (1/1), Rawhiti (1/1).
Dragons Player Minutes On Field:
Leeson Ah Mau (43 Minutes)
Sam Coster (30 Minutes)
Tyrone Cranston (50 Minutes)
Geoff Daniela (30 Minutes)
Matt Dufty (40 Minutes)
Dylan Farrell (40 Minutes)
Drew Hutchison (50 Minutes)
Kris Keating (50 Minutes)
Jake Marketo (58 Minutes)
Andrew McCarthy (30 Minutes)
Trent Merrin (40 Minutes)
Dane Nielsen (40 Minutes)
Rulon Nutira (28 Minutes)
Rory O'Brien (42 Minutes)
Mitch Rein (40 Minutes)
George Rose (34 Minutes)
Charly Runciman (52 Minutes)
Nathan Smith (50 Minutes)
Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard (49 Minutes)
Junior Vai Vai (30 Minutes)
Tekina Vailea (39 Minutes)
Gareth Widdop (40 Minutes)