A Mikaele Ravalawa double was not enough for the Dragons to overcome the Penrith Panthers with the defending premiers coming away with a 26-18 victory at BlueBet Stadium on Sunday night.
The Panthers were hit with an injury blow early in the first half with Australia and NSW halfback Nathan Cleary leaving the field with a hamstring complaint.
The sides went into the half-time break deadlocked at 12 before the Panthers took the lead early in the second stanza and managed to hold onto it in through a frantic final quarter.
The Dragons were the first on the board via a ninth-minute Zac Lomax penalty goal off the back of a Panthers obstruction coming out of trouble.
It did not take long, however, for the hosts to respond through right winger Brian To’o who reeled in a Cleary cut-out to dive over in the corner and make it 6-2 at the 10-minute mark.
The Dragons answered back almost immediately through Fijian international Ravalawa who finished off a slick right-side shift to tie it at six-apiece.
Cleary left the field in the aftermath of the try due to an apparent hamstring issue and was replaced by Jack Cogger.
A Tyrell Sloan line break got the Dragons back down the other end just after the 20-minute mark before an offside penalty gave Lomax the opportunity to slot another penalty goal and give the side a two-point lead.
Jacob Liddle was replaced by Moses Mbye just shy of the half-hour mark to undergo a head injury assessment which he was able to pass.
A pair of barnstorming carries courtesy of Josh Kerr and Moses Suli laid the platform for Ben Hunt to throw a sublime cut-out to Ravalawa who powered his way to the line for his second prior to the intermission and improve the Dragons’ lead to six points.
To’o grabbed his second four-pointer of the contest on the stroke of half-time after a cross-field Cogger chip landed in his lap to tie things at 12-apiece.
Penrith wrestled the lead back on the other side of the break thanks a Stephen Crichton penalty goal that made it 14-12.
Off the back of a touch-and-go knock-on call, the Panthers extended their lead to six after Sunia Turuva pounced on an Izack Tago grubber in the left corner on the hour-mark. There was plenty of controversy around the try with interim coach Ryan Carr later questioning why a knock-back from Mat Feagai, regathered by Sloan, was overruled to a knock-on immediately before the Turuva try.
There was concern for the wellbeing of Jack de Belin, who was taken from the field after suffering a nasty head knock whilst making a tackle off the subsequent kick-off and was unable to return. The lock was able to rejoin his teammates in the sheds after the game but will be monitored through the week.
Several minutes later, Lomax oared above several Penrith defenders to reel in a perfectly placed Hunt punt and dive over before converting his own try to tie it at 18 with 13 minutes to play.
The lead went back the way of the hosts four minutes later after Moses Leota took a Yeo offload and rolled his way over the line.
The Dragons were denied a potential equaliser moments later after Sloan sliced his way through a gap created by an obstruction to dive over.
Penrith knocked over a final-minute penalty goal off the back of an incorrect restart make it 26-18.