Who said the Dragons were dead?
St George Illawarra produced a gutsy and gritty performance to keep their top four hopes alive, downing the Wests Tigers 20-10 on Saturday night.
The undermanned Dragons, without captain Gareth Widdop and State of Origin prop Paul Vaughan through injury, had to endure the loss of halfback Ben Hunt to the sin bin and a sold out crowd at Leichhardt Oval to storm home for one of their most important victories of the season.
While many experts, and many of the club’s own fans, had written them off in recent weeks, the Dragons rallied to claim a victory in their first game at Leichhardt in 17 years.
St George Illawarra went close to opening the scoring midway through the half when Hunt slalomed through the Tigers’ defence close to the line. The former Queensland No.7 looked certain to score, only to drop the ball when stretching out to touch down as he was tackled.
But the Dragons were to be the first on the scoreboard as Jordan Periera crossed in the corner.
Luciano Leilua produced a barnstorming run from halfway and poked his nose between two defenders to offload to Kurt Mann. Mann found Periera who tippy toed his way down the touchline, beating David Nofoaluma to dive over.
St George Illawarra took a 6-0 lead to half-time but started the second half in the worst possible fashion when Hunt had a flashback to his golden point error in the 2015 grand final when he dropped the kick off.
Just like Johnathan Thurston did, the Tigers made him pay, with Chris Lawrence crashing over from a set play from the ensuing set.
It got worse for Hunt as he was sent to the sin bin – the third Dragons player to be sat down for 10 minutes by a referee in the last three weeks – as the Dragons were punished for repeat infringements on their own line.
The Tigers took the opportunity to put themselves on level terms with a penalty goal before Paul McGregor took a massive gamble.
The Dragons coach removed a forward to get young livewire Jai Field into the action in the absence of Hunt.
St George Illawarra battled away down to 12 men and re-took the lead with a penalty goal of their own.
They extended their advantage to a winning one shortly after when Luciano Leilua crashed over.
From a set scrum play, the giant back-rower stormed over the top of a Tigers defender to score, capping a memorable individual performance.
Tyson Frizell sealed the result with a monstrous effort close to the line as the Dragons made the most of Penrith’s slip up against Newcastle earlier in the day to climb back to fourth on the NRL table.
St George Illawarra Dragons 20 (Jordan Periera, Luciano Leilua, Tyson Frizell tries. Tim Lafai four goals)
Wests Tigers 6 (Chris Lawrence, Kevin Naiqama tries. Esan Marsters goal)
at Leichhardt Oval
Leader man of the match: Tyson Frizell (Dragons)
Dragons’ next two: Bulldogs (home – Kogarah), Knights (away)