Report, Video, Photos | St George Illawarra Dragons clinging to top four after 18-12 defeat to New Zealand Warriors

Five weeks ago St George Illawarra were top of the NRL table and touted as premiership favourites.

Now, the Dragons are desperately clinging to a top four place after their 18-12 loss to the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday afternoon.

A Roger Tuivasa-Sheck masterclass inspired the Warriors, with the turning point to an even first half coming when Matt Dufty was sent to the sin bin.

The Warriors ran in three tries while the diminutive Dragons fullback was off the field to take an 18-0 lead to half-time.

St George Illawarra will also be sweating on the fitness of Paul Vaughan after he went off with an ankle sprain early in the first half after being caught awkwardly in a tackle.

The prop will go for scans on Sunday morning, though Dragons officials were hopeful Vaughan could be fit for next Saturday night’s must-win clash with Parramatta.

It was a genuine arm wrestle for the first half hour in Wollongong, with a Shaun Johnson penalty goal separating the sides.

But the game was turned on its head on the half hour mark. With Dufty in the defensive line deep in the Dragons’ end, Tuivasa-Sheck put in a grubber kick for himself.

Dufty grabbed his opposite number by the shorts to help propel himself in front of Tuivasa-Sheck and get back to ground the ball ahead of Simon Mannering after Euan Aitken had an air swing at the loose ball.

Referee Gerrard Sutton sent Dufty to the sin bin and with the Dragons down to 12 men, the Warriors were rewarded for not taking a gift two points.

The visitors needed just three tackles to break the undermanned Dragons, with Solomone Kata crossing after an outstanding Isaiah Papali'i offload.

Already without Vaughan, the Dragons also lost James Graham to a head injury assessment.

The Warriors were in again at the mid-point of Dufty’s absence, this time with Jazz Tevaga providing a sublime offload for Issac Luke to race over and score.

Tim Lafai bombed a chance to get the Dragons back into the game. The centre looked certain to score after Jason Nightingale’s cross field run and inside pass, only for Tuivasa-Sheck to produce an incredible one on on try-saving tackle.

Then, with Dufty moments from returning to the field, the Warriors ensured Lafai’s missed opportunity was a 12-point swing when Kata crossed for his second try from a Blake Green cut out pass.

The Dragons needed to be the first to score after half-time and were right back in the match as 18-0 became 18-12 within 10 minutes.

Cameron McInnes got St George Illawarra going with a solo effort, before Luciano Leilua made the most of Gareth Widdop’s pin point grubber kick.

It appeared as if it was about to be a classically frustrating Warriors performance. But they instead showed their steel, turning away the Dragons time and again on their own line.

The Dragons had a number of chances but failed to take advantage, as the Warriors held on for just their second win at WIN Stadium in their history, their first since 1996.

Leader Scoreboard

New Zealand Warriors 18 (Solomone Kata two, Issac Luke tries. Shaun Johnson three goals)


St George Illawarra Dragons 12 (Cameron McInnes, Luciano Leilua tries. Gareth Widdop two goals)

at WIN Stadium, Wollongong

Crowd: 13,924

Leader man of the match: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors)

Dragons’ next three: Eels (away), Tigers (away), Bulldogs (home – Kogarah)