By Mary Maidiotis
The St George Illawarra Dragons convincingly defeated the Canberra Raiders 32-18 at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Sunday.
The Red-and-Whites crossed over for five tries in front of a packed hill, as they picked up the two points heading into the bye.
Head Coach Paul McGregor made minor changes to the side named mid-week with winger Eto Nabuli coming in to the side and Peter Mata’utia moving to the centres in lieu of Dylan Farrell.
It was the Dragons who drew first blood in the fourth minute when halfback Benji Marshall set-up halves partner Gareth Widdop, courtesy of a clever grubber.
Widdop converted his own try to put the side 6-0 up.
The hosts were given an opportunity to extend their lead in the 10th minute when awarded a penalty for taking too long in the tackle, however, Widdop’s kick was too high and he failed to convert.
The Red V continued their attack minutes later with a powerful 40/20 off the end of Marshall’s boot.
Winger Jason Nightingale flew over the white line in the ensuing play to extend the Dragons’ lead to 10.
Widdop converted to make it 12-0, just shy of the mark of the first quarter.
The visitors etched their first points on the board through second-rower Iosia Soliola, who broke through the defence and crashed over the line.
Raiders captain Jarrod Croker converted to put his side within six points.
The Red-and-Whites added an extra two when Widdop was able to convert a penalty goal.
The locals were in again seconds later as second-rower Tyson Frizell combined with hooker Mitch Rein to put centre Euan Aitken over underneath the posts.
Widdop easily slotted the ball to put the Dragons 20 points up.
The Raiders were over again 30 seconds out from half-time as second-rower Shannon Boyd reached past five defenders and placed the ball over the line.
Croker converted to make it 20-12 at the break.
The second forty began the way the first-half ended with Raiders halfback Mitch Cornish getting a cut-out pass to second-rower Josh Papalii who threw himself over the line to score.
Croker subsequently reduced the gap to two points.
The Dragons responded minutes later when a Widdop bomb found second-rower Joel Thompson who snuck over the line to further the lead.
Widdop made it 26-18 with half an hour left on the clock.
The home-side were in again on the hour mark as Marshall jumped on a Widdop kick and crawled over the line, just to the left of the posts.
Widdop slotted the ball to make it 32-18.
The final quarter was a tug-of-war between the two sides but the Dragons prevailed and were reinstated at the winners’ table.
Marshall was taken off early as a precaution with an injury to his left knee.
St George Illawarra Dragons 32. Tries: Widdop, Nightingale, Aitken, Thompson, Marshall. Goals: Widdop (5/5). Penalty Goals: Widdop (1/2).
Canberra Raiders 18. Tries: Soliola, Boyd, Papalii. Goals: Croker (3/3).