By Blake Edwards.
A strong showing from Ben Marschke and Adam Keighran wasn’t enough to hold out a fast finishing Dragons outfit, who scored three tries in the final quarter of the match to record a 28-all draw against North Sydney Bears in Wollongong.
The Dragons were bolstered by the inclusion of Jayden Sullivan, Tyrell Sloan and Josh Kerr, all of whom played their role in helping the Dragons secure a much-needed draw to keep their finals hopes alive in 2022.
Despite the handy inclusions for the Red V, it was visitors who got off to the perfect start, laying on two tries within the opening 15 minutes of the match.
The first four-pointer came off a nice blind-side play, with centre Kieran Hayman twisting his way over the stripe. The 14th minute saw the Bears notch their second try, when Adam Keighran broke through some staggered Dragons defenders before supplying a perfectly weighted grubber kick that was collected and grounded in spectacular fashion just inside the corner post by halfback Lachlan Lam, extending the lead to 12-0.
Having enjoyed an extended period of possession, the Dragons hit back with two quick tries of their own, through a strong close range effort from prop Josh Kerr in the 23rd minute.
This was shortly followed by some silky backline movement by fullback Treigh Stewart, who put centre Max Feagai through a considerable gap for their second, narrowing the Bears' lead to 12-10 at the half hour mark.
An error in the shadows of half-time by Dragons rake Connor Muhleisen invited the Bears back into the contest. The visitors accepted the invitation when interchange forward Michael Fenn shook off multiple defensive efforts from the Dragons defenders, crashing his way over the line and giving his side a handy 18-10 lead heading into the sheds.
A mid-game positional switch from centre to fullback for Bears star Adam Keighran showed its worth in the early stages of the second stanza, with Keighran chiming in nicely to provide a try for winger Tom Carr. A short while later, Ben Marschke provided a beautiful cut-out pass to Carr’s wing partner Toa Mata’ofo, with the flanker scoring in the corner to extend the lead 28-12 heading into the final 20 minutes.
Despite the Bears looking like they would run away with the game, the momentum remarkably swung back into the Dragons favour. The shift in momentum provided two tries within the space of five minutes to Tyrell Sloan and Treigh Stewart, setting up a grandstand finish, trailing 28-22.
The Dragons were afforded the opportunity to level the game after a 75th minute error by Norths. Jackson Ford went awfully close for the Red V in the ensuing set before a Max Feagai flick pass found a supporting Sloan who raced down the touchline to score out wide. Jayden Sullivan nailed the wide conversion to lock the scores at 28-all heading into the final two minutes.
Both sides had the opportunity to seal the game through field goals, but attempts by Sullivan and Keighran respectively, were unsuccessful, meaning the score remained 28-all at full time.
There were a few key moments within the final quarter of the game. Looking down and out, a flick switched for the Red V in the 60th minute, with the hosts scoring back-to-back tries within 5 minutes courtesy of Tyrell Sloan and Treigh Stewart to get themselves back within six of the Bears. An error in the 75th minute by the Bears, saw the Dragons take full advantage, with Sloan crossing for his second of the afternoon, ultimately levelling the scores at full-time.
The drawn match makes things interesting for the make-up of the top eight heading into the final weeks of The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup, with the Dragons moving three points clear of the 9th placed Newcastle Knights, whom they face in Round 19.
The Dragons head up the freeway to tussle with a desperate Newcastle Knights outfit, whilst the Bears will make the trip to Henson Park to face competition leaders, Newtown Jets.