Round 8 v Sydney Roosters
The St George Illawarra Dragons were 20-18 victors over the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium, Moore Park on Monday.
The Red-and-Whites scored three tries in the tightly-contested fixture to retain the traditional ANZAC Day Cup.
Head Coach Paul McGregor had been forced to make several changes to the line-up announced midweek as a result of centre Euan Aitken failing to overcome a minor hamstring injury.
Consequently, utility Will Matthews was elevated from the interchange to the vacated position while fellow centre Taane Milne, on debut, started from the bench.
The Dragons had overcome hail, rain and shine to clinch a 14-12 victory over their traditional opponents in the corresponding fixture last season and were en route to replicating that again in the first half.
The Roosters had been the more dominant when play began but their hard work was let down by a poor late tackle committed by prop Sam Moa on Dragons halfback Josh McCrone.
Dragons co-captain Gareth Widdop converted the eventuating penalty goal to give his team a two-point lead in the 10th minute.
The England international’s kick proved to be the turning-point for the hosts whom inflicted a further 16 unanswered points on their guests before the interval.
The five-eighth later added to his tally after capitalising off Roosters fullback Latrell Mitchell’s poor ball catching ability ten minutes later.
Widdop converted shortly thereafter to make it 8-0.
The home side inflicted further damage on their opponents just prior to the half hour mark when Widdop’s well-timed grubber was calmly collected by winger Jason Nightingale.
Fellow winger Kalifa Faifai Loa went one better to intercept a ball intended for Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall and dash 70-metres in the 38th minute.
Widdop’s conversion made it 18-0.
Unfortunately, the visitors ultimately managed to get themselves on the scoreboard after hooker Jake Friends crashed over in the 45th minute.
Roosters halfback Jackson Hastings followed through with the conversion to make it 18-6.
The visitors though were again penalised for late contact, this time prop Kane Evans on Dragons hooker Mitch Rein, minutes later.
The NSW Country Origin was forced off the field with a concussion as a result and did not return for the remainder of the game.
Widdop added the extras when able to reassert his team’s points-buffer.
It proved timely as fullback Latrell Mitchell picked-apart some sloppy defending from the host side to score in the 57th minute.
Hastings again converted to make it 20-12.
Roosters five-eighth Ryan Matterson had given his team hope when he barged his way over the stripe five minutes from full-time.
Hastings did likewise with his conversion making it 20-18.
But ill-discipline for the visitors proved to be their downfall, with any glimmer of a comeback erased when prop Dylan Napa struck a high-blow on Milne, gifting the Dragons the win.
St George Illawarra Dragons 20. Tries: Widdop, Nightingale, Fafai Loa. Goals: Widdop (2/3). Penalty Goal: Widdop (2/2).
Sydney Roosters 18. Tries: Friend, Mitchell, Matterson. Goals: Hastings (3/3).