St. George Illawarra Dragons have all-but assured their place in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW top four, proving too good for a determined Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles outfit 30-10 in the sides' Round 23 clash at Campbelltown Stadium.
Match: Sea Eagles v Dragons
Round 23 -
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium
On a wet and windy afternoon in Sydney's south-west, Dragons' stand-in fullback Patrick Herbert was the star – laying on two first-half tries before sealing the match for his side with four points of his own in the 77th minute.
The vital two competitions earned means the Dragons have likely secured a top four finish with one match to play, ahead of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW finals series commencing in two weeks' time.
Returning from injury, Dragons backrower Jacob Host crashed across for the first points of the afternoon, just five minutes played.
The hard-to-tackle edge-forward drove his way through defenders to score, collecting a deft pass from experience No.7 Darren Nicholls to find four points.
Nicholls couldn't convert and the Dragons' lead stayed at 4-0.
Blacktown all-but found an immediate reply and levelled the scores at 4-apiece, courtesy of Tevita Funa. Funa's defensive read lead to Hosts' try, but the fleet-of-foot centre responded in kind to see his side draw square.
Cade Cust's grubbing kick found its way into the in-goal area – and into Funa's hands – but the centre couldn't convert his own try as the score remained 4-4.
In a first-half where both teams had blocks of possession, the Sea Eagles continued to ask questions of the Dragons' defence – to which they had all the answers.
Guided by Nicholls' astute kicking game, the Dragons worked the ball deep into the Sea Eagles' half and again they found a try, second time around via winger Shaun Sauni-Esau.
The nippy outside back, playing in just his second Intrust Super Premiership match, collected a neat offload from fullback Pat Herbert who swivelled in a tackle to create space for his flanker.
Kicking into the teeth of the breeze, Nicholls' conversion was again waved away, and the Dragons lead 8-4.
The four-point lead soon became eight when Herbert laid on another try, this time for the side's opposite winger, Steven Marsters.
10 metres from the Sea Eagle's line, Herbert broke through a would-be tackler and kicked through into the in-goal area. The inch-perfect grubber was planted by Marsters who scored the side's third.
Nicholls' conversion again failed to raise the touch judges' flags. The sides then returned to the sheds, the Dragons holding a 12-4 front.
Upon the resumption, the Dragons' Reece Robson had looked to have scooted his way over the line for a try but was ruled to have used an unfair advantage, running behind the previous play's ruck to burrow his way past defenders.
Momentum swung on the back of the ensuing penalty and Blacktown capitalised in full.
Fresh onto the field, replacement hooker Joey Tramontana was the lucky recipient of a ricocheted kick to score under the uprights.
Funa converted, narrowing Blacktown's deficit to just two points.
A Blacktown penalty in the 58th minute again looked likely to have the Sea Eagles deep on the attack, but when Tom Wright failed to find touch, the Dragons were gifted field position.
Ash Nisbet scored what looked a decisive try in the 62nd minute to have the Dragons, and Nicholls' successful conversion kicked the side 18-10 clear.
But when Tramontana had a second try – again in fortunate circumstances – to get the Sea Eagles back into the match.
In a tit-for-tat ending to the match, Reece Robson's try was offset by Maliko Filino's four-pointer, before Herbert stepped up to seal the deal for Mat Head's men
ST. GEORGE ILLAWARRA 30 (J Host S Sauni-Esau S Marsters A Nisbet R Robson P Herbert tries D Nicholls 3 goals) bt BLACKTOWN 18 (J Tramontana 2 T Funa M Filino tries Funa goal)