Dragons rookie Jason Saab’s mother Alysia began crying before she presented the 18-year-old with his debut jersey and she had to fight back tears again after he scored two tries in a heartbreaking 20-16 loss to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
Until Rabbitohs winger Campbell Graham scored as the full-time siren sounded to snatch victory, Saab appeared set to enjoy a dream debut for St George Illawarra.
With the Dragons trailing 14-2, Saab pounced on a 66th minute Gareth Widdop grubber to score his first NRL try and then helped level the scores eight minutes later when he crossed again after a Cameron McInnes charge down.
In doing so, Saab became the first Dragon to score two tries on debut since Alex McKinnon in 2011.
However, he was unable to field a short kick-off by Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynold after Widdop had landed a 78th minute penalty goal from the sideline to put St George Illawarra ahead 16-14 and Graham scored on the last tackle of the match.
“It’s definitely mixed emotions at the moment,” Saab said. “To score two tries, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Even scoring one try would have been special and doing it in the Red V means a lot more than most people would know.”
Saab’s parents Pierre and Alysia are fanatical Souths supporters and his mother said after handing him his jersey that he had grown up wanting to play for the Rabbitohs but was now committed to St George Illawarra.
“I think mum started crying before she said a word at the jersey presentation,” Saab said. “That was pretty emotional and it almost got to me but I managed to stay composed.
“For dad, that was probably a win-win tonight but they are very proud. They were going to be proud whether we got a win, loss or draw.”
Since signing a four-year deal with the Dragons last season, Saab has grown four centimetres to 199cm and put on five kilos.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor, who phoned him last Saturday after the 40-14 loss to Penrith the night before to tell Saab he would be debuting against “dad’s team”, predicted he would eventually be the biggest winger in the game.
“He is a good kid, he is very respectful and works hard at training,” McGregor said.
“He has earned the right to play through his efforts in the lower grades. He has been consistent there and is an exciting young kid with a bright future.
“Over time he is going to fill out and he is going to end up being a 110kg, six-foot-five winger so he is going to be good.”
It was a sign of McGregor’s faith in Saab that he moved him from the right wing to the left side for the kick off after Widdop’s penalty goal
“We put our best catcher out there and he got nice and high but he just didn’t come down with the footy,” McGregor said.
"That's a bit of a kick in the teeth that result when we worked so hard to get into a position to be in front with a minute to go.
"We received that one penalty to put us in front and that was the only one we got from the 16th minute so we had nothing except what we worked for.
“We had to do a lot more work than the opposition. They had nine more sets than us and we had to make 100-plus more tackles.
"We spoke during the week about our effort and our commitment to one another, that was certainly there but our execution needs to be a bit cleaner and our confidence is a bit down.”