The St George Illawarra Dragons have held onto their top four spot with a nail-biting 22-18 victory over the North Sydney Bears at a breezy Netstrata Jubilee Oval.
The home side were dealt a blow before kick-off, when winger Lachlan Maranta was ruled out in warm-up due to a hamstring injury. Coach Mat Head was forced to reshape his line-up, with Jai Field given the duties of starting the game on the flank.
St George Illawarra’s woes continued into the game with the Bears crossing for their first try after just seven minutes had elapsed. A silky backline shift was finished off by Keiran Moss who slid nicely across field, before a gap opened for the fullback to dart through and score, notching the 4-0 lead.
A nice tip on by the Dragons midway through the first half found Matt Dufty unmarked on the wing, with the livewire youngster racing down the field before stepping the would-be Norths defenders to improve the position, diving underneath the posts. Tristan Sailor slotted the goal to give the Red V the 6-4 advantage. The Bears responded immediately down the right-hand side of the Dragons defence, with big Billy Smith crashing over from close range to snatch the lead back at 8-6.
Darren Nicholls kicked the Dragons out of trouble, booting a beautiful 40-20, with the breeze heavily behind his back. The hosts took full advantage in the ensuing set, with Adam Clune providing a neat short ball for Jacob Host who ran through a considerable hole in the Bears' defence to plant it down. Sailor made no mistake with his attempt at goal to make it 12-8.
A frantic final few minutes of the first half ended with the Dragons crossing for their third try of the afternoon through Nicholls who pulled out the old show and go close to the line, spinning out of a last ditch effort by a bears defender before scoring a great individual try. Sailor's goal was successful to give the Dragons a ten point advantage at the break at 18-8.
North Sydney mounted pressure early in the second half, turning their first opportunity into points with Drew Hutchison dishing a beautiful short ball meters out from the line for Jerry Key to finish it off by barging over. Smith converted his first for the day to reduce the Dragons lead to 18-14. Hutchison continued his high involvement setting up the next Bears four pointer with a floating cut out pass that found James Tuitaih who linked with winger Nick O’Meley who finished it off out wide. The difficult goal attempt was missed, with the scores locked at 18-all.
The Dragons had plenty of opportunities to respond midway through the second stanza, but failed at the last hurdle on every attempt. They finally found the stripe ahead of the 70th minute through Charly Runciman, to break the deadlock.
An exciting finish it was with the Bears throwing plenty at the Dragons who held their nerve as four-point victors.