If it wasn’t official before it certainly is now – St George Illawarra’s season is on the slide.
The Dragons’ Canberra hoodoo returned on Friday night as the red v suffered a heartbreaking 18-14 golden-point extra-time loss to the Raiders.
St George Illawarra were gutsy at GIO Stadium. At one stage coach Paul McGregor was left with only one fit player on his bench after losing Russell Packer early to a hip injury and Kurt Mann and Josh Dugan to head injury assessments.
It was Dugan’s injury that was the most controversial, as the NSW State of Origin representative appeared to wear a shoulder charge to the head from Canberra’s Queensland back-rower Josh Papalli. Dugan was unable to return, leaving the Dragons without their biggest attacking weapon for the final 23 minutes.
St George Illawarra were already without their other Blues representative Tyson Frizell, rested after battling a rib injury in recent months.
But despite the injury gods being against them it was still another defeat, St George Illawarra’s seventh in their last 10 matches and fourth in their last five. All of a sudden it sees them in a battle just to make the finals after a bright start to the season with a resurgent Parramatta and Penrith breathing down their necks.
They can lay the blame for their latest loss squarely at the feet of Aidan Sezer. The Raiders halfback produced two big plays – one to turn the game and one eventually to win it. The first, with Canberra trailing 12-6 and the Dragons on the attack one minute after Dugan was forced off midway through the second half, was an intercept from a Gareth Widdop pass. Jacob Host looked odds on to catch Widdop’s pass and score, only for Sezer to swoop and race 90 metres to score under the posts.
The second was in the first half of extra-time, when he gambled on an early kick inside Canberra’s 30m. Sezer hooked the kick almost 60m downfield for a 40/20. From the next set, Dave Taylor produced an offload for Elliott Whitehead to crash over next to the posts and win the game.
The Raiders had taken the lead after seven minutes through Nick Cotric before tries to Widdop, from a Nene Macdonald break, and Jason Nightingale gave St George Illawarra a 10-6 lead at half-time.
A Widdop penalty goal six minutes after the break extended the advantage to 12-6 before Sezer struck.
The sides traded penalty goals to make the score 14-all before both tried to win the game in normal time with field goals.
Blake Austin had three attempts for Canberra, one bravely charged down by three Dragons defenders. Widdop had his own left-footed attempt which missed to the left.
The Dragons will need to regroup. They host the high-flying Sea Eagles in Wollongong next Sunday, needing to turn their season around. Quickly.
Canberra Raiders 18 (Nick Cotric, Aidan Sezer, Elliott Whitehead tries. Jarrod Croker three goals)
St George Illawarra Dragons 14 (Gareth Widdop, Jason Nightingale tries. Gareth Widdop three goals)
in golden-point extra-time at GIO Stadium, Canberra
Leader man of the match: Aidan Sezer (Raiders)
Dragons’ next three: Sea Eagles (home), Knights (away), Rabbitohs (home)