St George-Illawarra Dragons 32
Tries: Euan Aitken 2, Eto Nabuli, Josh Dugan, Tyson Frizell, Jason Nightingale
Goals: Josh Dugan 4
Field Goals: nil
Wests Tigers 30
Tries: Pat Richards 2, Luke Brooks, Aaron Woods, James Tedesco, David Nofoaluma
Goals: Pat Richards 3
Field Goals: nil
Josh Dugan’s penalty goal in the 85th minute has given St George-Illawarra a dramatic victory 32-30 over Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium in front of 17,685 fans.
The Dragons were heading to a big win on the hour when Euan Aitken crossed for his second try at 30-8. With a wealth of possession in the final twenty thanks in part to a favourable penalty count, Wests Tigers drew level at thirty-all with two minutes to go after David Nofoaluma ran the length of the field intercepting Drew Hutchinson’s pass.
In what could have been his last play in Wests Tigers colours, Robbie Farah was penalised by referee Matt Cecchin for not being square at marker after he successfully charged down rookie half Hutchinson’s field goal attempt. This left Dugan with a simple conversion from in front to confirm the Dragons position in the top eight and end any chance of Manly overtaking them.
In an entertaining fixture Wests Tigers got off to the best possible start when Mitch Rein’s pass out of dummy half was intercepted by Luke Brooks who went on a forty-five metre run to the line. A swift reply from the Dragons saw Josh Dugan run across field before straightening through a huge gap. Eto Nabuli climbed above Nofoaluma to cross for his sixth try of the season after ten minutes of play. A costly error by James Tedesco led to Aitken scoring the Dragons third and giving his side a 14-4 lead after twenty minutes.
Pat Richards celebrated his final game in Tigers colours before a move to the Catalans Dragons next season with a four-pointer that involved an old style runaround from Farah and Woods in the lead-up. The Dragons were the last to score five minutes before the break when Benji Marshall sent Tyson Frizell over. It appeared the Dragons were cruising to a 20-8 half time lead and a top eight spot.
The news got better for the Dragons seven minutes after the break with Marshall’s kick out wide finding an unmarked Jason Nightingale to score. At the hour mark when Marshall bought up his fourth try assist when Aitken crossed, the Tigers with Farah on the bench appeared on their way to a hiding at 30-8.
Sixteen minutes from time the Tigers comeback started with Brooks long pass finding Richards who crossed for his double. Three minutes later Aaron Woods crashed over next to the posts and with a successful conversion from Richards the margin was reduced to twelve points. A dramatic finish loomed when Mitch Moses broke the Dragons line inside his own half and found a flying Tedsco to score. With four minutes remaining the Tigers were a converted try behind. Nofoaluma’s intercept try two minutes before full-time sent the game into golden point.
Golden point took a familiar path of a field goal shootout with Richards and Marshall missing attempts for either side. It was Hutchinson’s attempt charged down by Farah and subsequent penalty that decided the game.
No matter who the Dragons draw in the first week of the finals they can’t afford to let go of a commanding lead in the final twenty. Up until that stage it looked like the Dragons had turned the corner with solid defence, something that helped them to the top of the ladder mid-season. Marshall was simply superb in attack in a promising sign for Dragons fans. The return of Gareth Widdop next week will be vital as to whether they can avoid an early September exit.
With the Tigers season over, Jason Taylor has the task of rebuilding the club without Farah. The clean out has started with Keith Galloway (Leeds Rhinos), Tim Moltzen (Manly Sea Eagles) and Pat Richards departure. An internal review is likely after a fourth straight year without a finals appearance in running fifteenth in front of Newcastle on points difference.