Dragons halves Ben Hunt and Corey Norman inspired a late 22-20 victory over Canberra that saved NRL officials from needing to decide whether to strip competition points from the Raiders for using 18 players at WIN Stadium.
Canberra's 18th man Xavier Savage was sent into the fray at the start of the second half after centre Sebastian Kris was ruled out following an incident in which St George Illawarra forward Jack Bird was placed on report.
However, the 18th man can only be used if a team suffers three HIAs or loses a player to an incident of foul play for which an opponent was sin-binned or sent off and Savage was called from the field after just 12 minutes.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart later apologised for the error, which overshadowed a second-half Dragons comeback and five-star performance by Hunt that is expected to ensure his selection in the Queensland team for Origin II.
“I thought Ben was excellent and I thought Corey Norman was very good as well," St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin said.
Match: Dragons v Raiders
Round 15 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
"We let in a couple of really soft tries and both our halves missed one-on-one tackles so we had to do it the hard way coming back from 12-0 but in the second half they managed it well.
"They both obviously contributed to that first-half scoreline but in attack the two of them steered us around the park really well and they both had some really good touches. I thought Ben was outstanding."
Hunt made three line breaks, was responsible for a try assist and produced a 40:20 kick that indirectly led to Norman's match-winning try in the 69th minute.
Vaughan offloads in traffic for Norman
The Raiders had led until then after taking advantage of the roaring southerly wind at their backs in the first half to dominate the early field position and race to a 12-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes.
Kiwi second-rower Corey Harawira-Naera crossed for the first try in the 10th minute when he brushed aside an attempted tackle by Norman and Kris scored 10 minutes later after Canberra captain Elliott Whitehead spun out of two tackles, including one by Hunt, to put the centre over.
Kris looked set to extend the Raiders' lead in the 27th minute but a try-saving tackle by rookie St George Illawarra fullback Tyrell Sloan stopped him short of the line.
Kris then turned try-saver at the opposite end of the field when he intercepted a Gerard Beale pass on the Raiders line after a blindside break by Hunt.
However, the Raiders couldn’t stop replacement forward Billy Burns from scoring after Hunt sent him on an angle run with a perfectly timed pass in the 32nd minute.
Tyrell Sloan scores a ripper on debut
The controversial incident which led to the confusion over Savage’s eligibility enabled Sam Williams to extend Canberra’s lead to 14-6 just before halftime after Bird was placed on report.
The Raiders went further ahead when English forwards Josh Hodgson and Ryan Sutton combined to put Joseph Tapine over for a try in the 44th minute but with the wind now favouring the Dragons it was going to be a big ask to hang on to the lead.
Beale started the fightback when he crossed for a 50th-minute try after Hunt again ran the ball to the line and Sloan then scored two minutes later after kicking ahead for Norman to regather and put the teenage fullback over for his first NRL try.
Hunt feeds Burns on the charge
Griffin praised Sloan after an impressive NRL debut but said Matt Dufty (shoulder) was likely to return at fullback for St George Illawarra's next match, while Zac Lomax (thumb), Josh McGuire and Tyrell Fuimaino (both suspended) would also be back.
“I thought he did a really good job, he scored a try and had some really good touches in attack," Griffin said of Sloan.
"I was really happy for him. He has had a hard road to get here and it is a great night for our club to be able to really dig in and find a way to win there and to have a debutant – a home-grown player - score a try and be a part of it.
“He has got that class, it is just a matter of education now and physicality."