Super League champions St Helens warmed up for their World Club Challenge clash against back-to-back NRL premiers Penrith with a 30-18 win against an undermanned St George Illawarra outfit at WIN Stadium.
Invited into the NRL pre-season challenge as the 18th team, Saints fielded a star-studded line-up as they prepare for a chance to become just the second English team to win the WCC in Australia when they meet the Panthers next Saturday night.
In comparison, new hooker Jacob Liddle was the only member of the likely Dragons spine for their opening premiership match against the Dolphins in round two.
St George Illawarra were missing 14 players from the 26 signed so far in their NRL squad.
With five members of England's World Cup squad and a number of other internationals in their ranks, it was little surprise that Saints raced to an early 10-0 lead.
Halfback Lewis Dodd scored the first in the seventh minute and had a significant hand in the second four minutes later with a long overhead pass for winger Tommy Makinson, who somehow managed to get the ball to Jack Welsby.
Welsby burrows over
However, the Dragons hit back when new recruit Ben Murdoch-Masila picked up a loose pass from five-eighth Connor Muhleisen and raced into the clear before sending centre Zac Lomax to the tryline.
Fullback Treigh Stewart, who wore the No.1 jersey for the victorious Illawarra Steelers SG Ball team in 2019 that featured Tyrell Sloan on the wing, bought the crowd to their feet when he stepped his way over for a 21st minute try.
The 21-year-old burst through attempted tackles by Dodd and England centre Mark Percival before dragging Welsby across the line.
Makinson gave St Helens a 16-12 halftime lead when he crossed in the 32nd minute after a catch and pass effort from Curtis Sironen created an overlap out wide.
Makinson sure can finish a try
Will Hopoate was disallowed a try before the interval for a knock-on by Sione Mata’utia after Stewart put down a Dodd bomb and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook batted back the bouncing ball.
Back up hooker Joey Lussick, who replaced captain James Roby, dived over from dummy half after another Stewart fumble to score the first try of the second half in the 62nd minute.
Replacement Theerapol Ritson put the game beyond doubt when he scored in the 69th minute.
- Star Dragons centre Zac Lomax switched from his usual right edge role to the left side and scored a first half try but didn't have his usual impact.
- St Helens had their first taste of the captain's challenge rule used in the NRL when Alex Walmsley successfully lobbied referee Liam Kennedy to overturn a knock-on call against Welsby in the second half.
- Rookie St George Illawarra fullback Treigh Stewart was heavily involved, showing good footwork to score in the first half but committing a number of errors fielding kicks that proved costly for his side.
- Stewart was also placed on report for hip drop on Saints opposite Jack Welsby in the first half.
- Despite playing 184 NRL games, Saturday night's match was the first time St Helens back Will Hopoate has played at WIN Stadium. Hopoate came through the match unscathed after just nine appearances for Saints in 2022.
- Dragons recruit Jacob Liddle looked assured in his first hit-out at hooker, topping the Dragons tackle count with 34 tackles.
Match: Dragons v Saints
Round 1 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Play of the Game
21-year-old Treigh Stewart had WIN stadium on their feet when he sliced his way through St Helens' defence to cross the line. Currently on a train-and-trial deal, the emerging fullback produced an eye-catching performance, topping the Dragons run metres with 136 and breaking five tackles.
Stewart slices the defence
What they said
"We're very happy, I think obviously it’s a long way to travel over here and it’s our first hit out and our first time against NRL opposition so we were a bit apprehensive and didn’t really know what to expect but I think the game was great for us. Couple of chances we blew at times but it was a good set-for-set game in parts and on the whole coming away with the win is very pleasing. We know next week is going to be another level and we know it's going to be a big occasion." - St Helens captain James Roby
"It was a really good hit out I thought St Helens were a really competitive outfit, we got into some pretty good cycles and that's what we wanted to get out of it. Few things for us to work on, we had a few errors there and we didn't execute what we really wanted to but it was a good trial." - Dragons halfback Moses Mbye
The Dragons head to Mudgee for the annual Charity Shield match against the Rabbitohs and will field a stronger line-up, with captain Ben Hunt expected to play, along with Indigenous All Stars representatives Tyrell Sloan, Tyrell Fuimaono and Josh Kerr.
Boom playmaker Jayden Sullivan is also considered a chance of overcoming a hamstring injury to play.
St Helens face Penrith in the World Club Challenge next Saturday night and are expected to be at full strength, with England forward Morgan Knowles set to play after missing the Dragons match due to illness.
England winger Tommy Makinson appeared unaffected by a cork suffered in the first half that led him to hand over the goal kicking duties to Ben Davies.