Dragons Too Strong For Raiders
The St George Illawarra Dragons were 22-20 winners over the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium, Canberra on Saturday.
The Dragons, wearing their alternative strip for the encounter, notched four tries in the win with Trent Merrin, Jason Nightingale, Mitch Rein and Joel Thompson all getting their names on the scoresheet.
Head Coach Paul McGregor had made several changes to the line-up announced in midweek including fullback Josh Dugan returning to the starting line-up in place of Peter Mata'utia.
The NSW Blues representative had overcome his ankle injury sustained in the opening match of the season against the Melbourne Storm to play his 100th NRL first-grade appearance.
The custodian was joined in the starting line-up by first-grade debutant Euan Aitken, who replaced Dane Nielsen in the centres, as well as prop Mike Cooper, who had been elevated from the interchange in lieu of George Rose, who was omitted due to the birth of his child.
Dragons utility Jake Marketo had also been given the chance to play his first game of the season for the team and started from the bench.
The Red-and-Whites had arrived to the nation’s capital in search of their first two-competition points of the new campaign but found themselves unfortunately trailing by three converted tries early on.
The Raiders had been pressuring the visitors defence from the get-go and notched their first four-pointer of the game through hooker Josh Hodgson in the ninth minute of play.
This was followed-up by second-rower Iosia Soliola barging past Dragons centre Dylan Farrell to etch his name on the score sheet five minutes later before five-eighth Blake Austin followed suit shortly thereafter.
Raiders captain Jarrod Crocker converted all three goals to make it 18-0.
Despite the early setback, the visitors proved undeterred and pressed forward on numerous occasions in search of reply.
Unfortunately though, the Dragons squandered their several scoring opportunities and had to wait until just shy of the interval to finally make the breakthrough play.
Dragons lock Trent Merrin was the man-of-the-moment when his charge-and-barge carry across the chalk proved too much for his opposing marker in the 37th minute.
Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop soon converted to make it 18-6.
The visitors were rewarded a penalty moments later allowing the England international to make it 18-8.
The Dragons continued where they left off following the recommencement of second-half play and soon celebrated winger Jason Nightingale’s four-point effort in the 49th minute.
However, the cheers were neutered by Croker’s penalty goal minutes later, coupled by the sin binning of fullback Josh Dugan.
The NSW Blues representative had been judged to have committed a professional foul by slowing down play and was forced to leave the field for ten minutes.
Fortunately, the hosts were unable to capitalise off their one-man advantage by the time the custodian returned in the 64th minute.
The Dragons however, went from strength to strength and managed to mount two late tries to equalise proceedings.
Dragons hooker Mitch Rein was the first across the line after his bracing run from dummy-half in the 68th minute.
The was followed-up by second-rower Joel Thompson’s efforts in front of the stripe six minutes later to make it 20-all.
The Dragons took the lead and ultimately the win moments later after Widdop converted to make it 22-20.
St George Illawarra Dragons 22. Tries: Merrin, Nightingale, Rein, Thompson. Goals: Widdop (2/4). Penalty Goal: Widdop (1/1).
Canberra Raiders 20. Tries: Hodgson, Soliola, Austin. Goals: Croker (3/3). Penalty Goal: Croker (1/1).