The Dragons came close to producing an unlikely fightback at WIN Stadium on Saturday evening but ultimately fell to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24-18 in Daly Cherry-Evans’ 300th NRL game.
Ryan Carr’s men got off to a strong start thanks to a converted Francis Molo try just six minutes in plus a Zac Lomax penalty goal shortly after resulting in an early 8-0 lead before the Sea Eagles fought their way in front through tries to Tongan internationals Tolutau Koula and Haumole Olakau’atu.
A pair of Sea Eagles tries early in the second stanza put the visitors on the front foot before a late fightback inspired by tries to Billy Burns and Tyrell Sloan made things interesting, however, Anthony Seibold’s outfit held on to win by a converted try.
An early penalty and string of set restarts put the Dragons on the attack and they made use of it through Molo who poured through a hole off the hip of Junior Amone to dive over for the contest’s opening points six minutes in with Lomax adding the extras to give the hosts an early 6-0 lead.
Lomax went close to snagging a four-pointer of his own in trademark aerial fashion off a Ben Hunt kick soon after kick but was denied.
The Dragons extended their lead to eight via a Lomax penalty goal just shy of the first quarter mark.
Koula got the Sea Eagles on the board 21 minutes in after Jason Saab found his centre back on the inside off a break down the right sideline to make it 8-6.
The Sea Eagles won possession coming off their own line following a successful captain’s challenge moments later.
Olakau’atu burst through on an unders line off Josh Schuster to put the visitors ahead for the first time in the game on the half-hour mark.
Jacob Liddle was taken from the field in the aftermath for a head injury assessment paving the way for debutant Connor Muhleisen to earn his first taste of NRL action.
The Sea Eagles withstood a late Dragons attacking raid to take a 12-8 edge into the sheds.
Liddle returned to the action to start the second half after passing his head injury assessment.
The visitors extended their lead in their opening set of the second period after Koula sped into the backfield off a string of offloads and found a supporting Reuben Garrick back on the inside.
The Sea Eagles fullback converted his own try to make it 18-8.
A desperate cover effort courtesy of several Dragons prevented the Sea Eagles’ fourth after Saab found space down the right touchline and sent it back inside to Garrick.
Dan Russell was denied his maiden NRL try after gathering a ricocheting Hunt grubber and falling over the line only for the video officials to rule he was held up.
A successful captain’s challenge kept the Dragons on the attack but they were unable to capitalise.
Saab added to visitors’ lead off the back of it after an exchange of passing opened up space for the winger down the right touchline.
Moses Suli was assisted from the field just short of the hour mark pushing Billy Burns into the centres and Toby Couchman into the second row.
The Dragons answered through Burns who steamed through to ground a Hunt grubber in the left corner with Lomax slotting the conversion to make it 22-14.
Whilst play had been stopped for a lengthy amount of time for Christian Tuipulotu to have his knee strapped, officials picked up on an illegal Jack de Belin tackle earlier in the sequence that resulted in the lock forward being binned.
Despite being a man down, the Dragons took advantage of a pair of set restarts through Tyrell Sloan who picked up a bouncing Jacob Liddle pass to dive over at the southern end and cut the Sea Eagles’ lead to four.
The Sea Eagles received a penalty with two minutes remaining due to a Dragon taking possession without retreating beyond the line of the play the ball giving Garrick the opportunity to pilot through a penalty goal and make it 24-18.
With less than 60 seconds remaining, the Dragons regained the ball via a short kick-off but ultimately fell short of producing a miracle try with the Sea Eagles holding on for a six-point win.