The St George Illawarra Dragons have come away with a hard-fought 32-16 victory over the Newcastle Knights, capping an entertaining, back-and-forth contest at the temporarily-named Beanies for Brain Cancer Stadium.
In a game which featured multiple lead changes, the 12th-placed Knights showed plenty of fight before three Dragons tries in the final 15 minutes earned them the two competition points and fifth place on the competition ladder.
Match: Knights v Dragons
Round 12 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights didn't resemble a side running last when they dominated possession in the early stages, with kick pressure from halves Hayden Loughrey and Jack Johns keeping them down the Dragons' end of the field. They looked to have capitalised when Matt Allwood explored an opportunity down the right-hand side, but the former Warrior made a double-movement in reaching for the line.
Soon after Tohi fielded a bomb from Loughrey near his own line, the Dragons winger opened the scoring up the other end18 minutes into the contest. A Darren Nicholls cross-field kick was taken overhead by Matheson Johns, who offloaded to send his winger over. With Nicholls' conversion hitting the post and falling over, the Dragons had the early 6-0 lead.
Opportunities began to present themselves for the visitors, with a fine play from Reuben Garrick, Jordan Pereira and Josh Kerr getting them back within striking distance. A Tom Starling high tackle on Luciano Leilua soon gave the Dragons a shot at penalty goal and Nicholls was successful.
The penalty proved to be a momentum-changer when a Kerr error returned the Knights to good field position. Starling made up for his previous slip-up with a well-timed grubber from dummy-half, finding Luke Yates who beat Pereira to score.
In the ensuring restart set, Newcastle continued their late resurgence to come up with a 70-metre try and earn an unlikely half-time lead. A right-side shift inside their own half saw Loughrey and Nick Meaney find Beau Fermor, who ran around opposite centre Johns and passed inside to Tom Hughes to score under the posts. With the conversion, the Knights led 10-8 at the break.
Early in the second half, a Dragons outfit full of intent took little time to reclaim the lead. After second-rower Jackson Ford was held up over the line, Nicholls sent the ball to rookie fullback Steven Marsters, who put in two big right-foot steps to beat four players and score.
Soon after, the Dragons looked to exploit an overlap on the right side, with the threat diffused by a Brent Naden intercept. A 15-minute period of stop-start Rugby League ensued, with both sides failing to build pressure.
After Meaney, in his first game back from injury, showed good pace to go close to scoring, a second line-break from Loughrey came minutes later. An overhead Josh King offload gave Starling the ball in broken play passing onto the young half who showed good footwork to score. Meaney converted and the lead changed yet again; the Knights were in front 16-14.
Five minutes passed until it was the Dragons' turn to score - and it would be the easiest four-pointer of the match. With the visitors pressing the Knights' line, Hame Sele picked up the ball from dummy-half and isolated Bobby Treacy, pushing past the opposition front-rower to score near the posts.
As the clock wound down in Newcastle, the Dragons made sure to score consecutive tries and set up their victory. Hookers Reece Robson and Josaia Lovodua shifted right to Blake Lawrie, who crashed through the Knights defence and scored. With Nicholls conversion, Mat Head's men led 26-16 with nine minutes remaining.
St George Illawarra appeared to be simply playing down the clock late in the contest, with a scrappy attacking set looking unlikely to bring points. Intrust Super Premiership leading tryscorer Jordan Pereira, however, managed to get another for the Dragons. Nicholls, after almost colliding with a teammate and being forced to change his kick direction, sent the ball left to Pereira, who flew high above Naden to notch up his eighth try in four games.
The Dragons halfback then maintained his perfect goal-kicking record for a 32-16 scoreline, which would remain until full-time. It lifts St George Illawarra into fifth place on the Intrust Super Premiership ladder, while Newcastle remain anchored in 12th.