Round 1 v Melbourne Storm
The St George Illawarra Dragons were defeated 18-16 by the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park, Melbourne on Monday.
The Red-and-Whites, wearing black armbands following the passing of former player Garahame Buckley, scored three tries but it was not enough for the two competition points.
Head Coach Paul McGregor had made several changes to the line-up prior to kick-off following the omission of second-rower Joel Thompson who was rested due to a corked thigh.
Replacing the NSW Country Origin representative was Jack de Belin, who was elevated from the interchange bench to partner Will Matthews.
Furthermore, fellow second-rower Tyson Frizell made his return from off-season back-surgery and joined co-captain Ben Creagh, hooker Siliva Havili and prop Dunamis Lui on the bench.
The Dragons applied pressure on their hosts from the get-go and opened-up their account through winger Jason Nightingale in the sixth minute.
Dragons co-captain Gareth Widdop was the orchestrator of the points when he linked up with fullback Kurt Mann, who subsequently fired a long ball out wide for the New Zealand international to collect and score.
Some scrappy play nine minutes later allowed the visitors to record their second four-pointer when Widdop, centre Tim Lafai and second-rower Will Matthews all managed to keep the ball alive on the left-edge of the field.
Dragons halfback Benji Marshall noted the melee and made his way across from the right to collect the ball popped out by Lafai to score.
Widdop later converted to make it 10-0.
However, the Storm hit-back right from the kick-off when Nightingale lost possession whilst running the ball back ten metres out from his team’s defensive line.
The hosts made them pay with a quick shift to the left, catching the visitors short on their right edge, allowing winger Marika Koroibete to cross untouched.
The Fiji international scored in almost exactly the same position two minutes later to make it 10-8.
Smith levelled the scores six minutes from the interval with a penalty goal from in front after second-rower Tyson Frizell had been penalized for holding down in the tackle too long.
The Storm skipper seized the lead with another penalty from the same position after second-rower Jack de Belin was penalized for being offside.
The hosts continued where they left off when second-half play recommenced with prop Jesse Bromwich getting his name on the scoresheet in the 46th minute.
However, Frizell provided the visitors hope when he slid over the stripe just shy of the hourmark
Widdop then added the extras to make it 18-16.
Unfortunately, the Red-and-Whites were unable to build-off this newfound momentum and ultimately went down in narrow fashion.
St George Illawarra Dragons 16. Tries: Nightingale, Marshall, Frizell. Goals: Widdop (2/3). Penalty Goal: Widdop (0/1).
Melbourne Storm 18. Tries: Koroibete (2), K Bromwich. Goals: Smith (1/3). Penalty Goals: Smith (2/2).