The St George Illawarra Dragons have come back from an 18-2 deficit in the first half to defeat the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 21-20 at Belmore Sports Ground, in their sixth win of the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership.
Jai Field, wearing the No.6 jersey, and Reuben Garrick were standouts for the Red V, while Darren Nicholls also had a day to remember upon his return from a throat injury. The halfback missed much of the first half with a head knock, returning in the second to slot two sideline conversions and a 74th-minute field goal to seal the narrow win.
Match: Bulldogs v Dragons
Round 10 -
Venue: Belmore Sports Ground
The Dragons looked to have got on the board early when an attacking set ended with a perfect long ball from Jai Field, sent wide to Jordan Pereira. The winger, who crossed four times last week, failed to take the ball cleanly however, spilling it when points were on offer.
Another opportunity arose soon after, but a wayward Darren Nicholls pass went to ground – and an alert John Olive found himself in space and racing away. The whistle was blown for a late shot, however, with Field taking the penalty goal and earning a 2-0 lead.
It wasn't long before the home side found themselves on the attack, and a right-side raid brought the game's first try. Michael Lichaa opted for the short side from dummy-half, finding a sliding Josh Cleeland who sent Josh Bergamin over in the corner. Fa'amanu Brown converted from out wide for a 6-4 scoreline.
Lichaa would play a vital role once again when the Bulldogs earned their second try, putting Reimis Smith through a gap in the mid-field. The winger ran 40 metres and outpaced Jai Field and Pat Herbert to score, once again converted by Brown.
With the Dragons on the back foot, their day took an even worse turn when Darren Nicholls left the field with a bad head wound. Returning after three weeks on the sidelines, the Dragons halfback came off second-best in a collision and would not return until the start of the second half.
On the scoreboard, meanwhile, it was all the Bulldogs; with more field position, Canterbury-Bankstown crossed for their third try on the half-hour mark. Lachlan Burr was the man to cross, slicing through the St George Illawarra defence near to the posts.
Burr could have had a second minutes later when Lachlan Lewis broke through, offloading to the second-rower who would have been over the line - but a knock-on brought the play unstuck. The Dragons would instead be next to score up the other end of the field, when Reuben Garrick - who had made multiple strong runs - sent Pereira over for the side's first. With Field's conversion attempt sailing wide, it left an 18-6 half-time score.
It was a slow start to the second half until Jai Field injected his trademark speed; five minutes after the resumption, the fullback-turned-five-eighth accelerated to break through a poor Bulldogs defensive effort. Field linked up with Garrick, who completed the 50-metre movement to score out wide - a try which was converted by the recently-returned Nicholls.
Dragons big man TJ Uele found himself in the clear and was searching for his first try of 2018, miraculously dragged down just one metre short of the line. Minutes later, it would once again be the left-edge which would bring points for the visitors; after John Tohi explored his options down the right-hand side, Field and Garrick combined once again to send Pereira over for his second. With Nicholls' conversion, scores were level at 18-all.
When the Bulldogs conceded a penalty near their own line, the choice was simple for St George Illawarra, with Nicholls making no mistake in getting a two-point lead.
The Bulldogs soon got their own penalty in their own half, putting them on the attack. While the opposition defence held strong, an offside penalty soon allowed Steve Georgallis's men to level up once again.
Both sides had their chances in the next period - and none moreso than the Bulldogs, who found themselves moving upfield in broken play. It was Josh Cleeland who started the movement, offloading to Mason Cerruto, but the fullback's wide ball to Bergamin went into touch.
That would be the last time the Bulldogs looked likely to score a try, with field goals the main objective in the final stages. With five minutes remaining, it was Nicholls who stepped up to the plate for the visitors, calmly adding the extra point from in front.
The Bulldogs had another chance in the final minute of play and when they were unable to break the Dragons' defence, took their first field goal attempt of the game. It was Brown who lined up the kick, which went to the left of the posts - handing the 21-20 victory to the Dragons.
St George Illawarra Dragons 21 (J Pereira 2, R Garrick tries; D Nicholls 3, J Field goals; D Nicholls field goals) def Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 20 (J Bergamin, R Smith, L Burr tries; F Brown 4 goals)