St George Illawarra have produced a gutsy 16-14 victory over Penrith to keep their season alive on Sunday afternoon despite losing Josh Dugan before kick off after the representative centre was dropped.
Fox Sports reported that Dugan had missed the team bus to Pepper Stadium and drove himself to the ground. When he arrived he was notified the Dragons’ leadership group had convened on the bus and decided Dugan was to be left out.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said the club needed to make a statement around discipline with Dugan, who will leave the club to join Cronulla next season, axed from the starting side with Kurt Mann taking Dugan’s place in the centres.
“Discipline is important to our footy team and on game day especially,” McGregor said.
“He didn’t arrive on time after we spoke about what is needed recently. It doesn’t matter if it’s round 25. If you want to drive standards and discipline it doesn’t matter what round it is. It’s what the club needs. And our club needed to make a statement. Whether it be Josh or any other player in our side.”
The two-point win was enough to keep the Dragons in touching distance with the top eight heading into their final round clash with Canterbury at ANZ Stadium next Sunday. St George Illawarra are in ninth place on 28 points, two behind Penrith, North Queensland and Manly.
The Sea Eagles and Panthers play each other at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night, while the Cowboys host Brisbane on Thursday night. Given their superior for and against, a win for the Dragons over Canterbury would guarantee St George Illawarra a place in the finals.
St George Illawarra took the lead inside the opening 10 minutes when Paul Vaughan isolated Dylan Edwards and Nathan Cleary on the try line to barge over from close range.
The Panthers drew level on the half hour mark when Tyrone May produced a superb solo effort. The five-eighth shaped to play out the back before throwing a dummy and slipping past Cameron McInnes to score under the posts.
A Cleary penalty goal five minutes later looked as though Penrith would take the lead to half-time only for young St George Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty to produce a moment of magic just before the break.
Dufty showed his electric speed to get on the outside of Cleary and cross out wide, with Gareth Widdop’s conversion from out wide in a swirling breeze giving St George Illawarra a 12-8 advantage at half-time.
Penrith wrestled back the lead 10 minutes after the break through Josh Mansour and went close again shortly after only for Tariq Sims to produce the first of two match-turning plays. Cleary regathered his own grubber kick that rebounded off the post and looked certain to score only for Sims to somehow wrestle Cleary back short of the line.
The second play proved to be the match-winner. The Dragons struggled out of their own end from the next set with a clearing kick into the strong breeze only reaching 10 metres into Penrith’s half. But as Dallin Watene Zelezniak returned the kick, Sims rocked the winger with a tackle and stole the ball, racing 45 metres to slide over in the corner.
Penrith then threw everything they had at St George Illawarra for the final half hour but couldn’t crack the Dragons. Widdop then showed his experience and composure to close out the game, earning the Dragons several repeat sets to keep Penrith at bay.
St George Illawarra Dragons 16 (Paul Vaughan, Matt Dufty, Tariq Sims tries. Gareth Widdop two goals)
Penrith Panthers 14 (Tyrone May, Josh Mansour tries. Nathan Cleary three goals)
at Pepper Stadium
Leader man of the match: Tariq Sims (Dragons)
Dragons’ next game: Bulldogs (home)