A last-gasp try to fullback-turn-centre Patrick Herbert has seen the St George-Illawarra Dragons snatch a 28-26 win over the Newtown Jets – the win securing a berth in a Preliminary Final fixture for the Red V, in a fortnight's time.
Match: Dragons v Jets
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Trailing by eight points with less than 15 minutes to play, the Dragons overturned the deficit courtesy of tries to Adam Clune and Herbert – both on the back of the influence and kicking nous of experienced halfback, Darren Nicholls.
Herbert's try sent the Dragons to an unassailable front, and consequently, Newtown into a Semi-Final fixture with Mounties at Jubilee Oval next weekend.
The fast-finishing Dragons were slow out of the blocks, and only four minutes had passed before Newtown found their first points. Experienced winger Matt Evans was the first to score, and the four-pointer came on the back of a slick shift from the Jets' backs.
Kyle Flanagan made no mistake from the left-hand touchline, sending the Jets out to a 6-0 lead.
Shaun Sauni-Esau hit back for the Dragons just five minutes later, the winger capping a peach of a pass from late-inclusion Jai Field to touchdown.
Nicholls, alike Flanagan, was flawless with his first conversion attempt of the afternoon and levelled the scores at six.
Back-to-back tries to the Jets' Briton Nikora (17th) and Evans (25th) had the Jets out by 10 points, but again the Dragons found a quick reply.
Playing off the interchange bench despite wearing the No.6, Adam Clune stepped into his familiar play-making role and delivered a short ball at the line to send Reuben Garrick in to score.
Nicholls converted to lessen the margin to four points, before Clune again turned provider to hand Sauni-Esau a first-half double.
Nicholls' joy from the tee came to an end with his third attempt on goal, and the scores were locked at 16 heading into the sheds.
At the resumption, a Dragons penalty gave the 'hosts' the lead, as Nicholls pointed to the posts from in front to send his side to an 18-16 front.
But again, the Jets, as they had done for most of the match, re-found the lead.
Reubenn Rennie went over to score (56th) before William Kennedy's try (66th) again had the Jets out to a healthy, eight-point margin.
But with under 10 minutes to play, up stepped the experiences Nicholls.
The veteran No.7 sent a last tackle bomb spiralling towards the wing of Rennie, who spilled the ball to hand the Dragons gift possession.
Clune – having had a hand in two of his team's tries – took the ball on the first play off the scrum and did it all himself to score. Nicholls converted, cutting the Jets' lead to just two with 5 minutes to play.
Back in 'good ball' areas, the Dragons looked to their marquee signing – Nicholls threw up another floating kick towards Rennie's wing, who again dropped the Steeden.
Trailing through off the kick, Herbert scooped up the ball in one motion and planted down to score the match-winner.
Nicholls' shot on goal mattered little, and at the sound of the full-time siren, the Dragons had reason to cheer – Mat Head's securing a direct passage through to a Week Three Preliminary Final, while the Jets were consigned to a Semi-Final clash with Mounties at Jubilee Oval.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 28 (S Sauni-Esau 2 R Garrick A Clune P Herbert tries D Nicholls 4 goals) bt NEWTOWN 26 (M Evans 2 B Nikora R Rennie W Kennedy tries K Flanagan 3 goals)