St George Illawarra Dragons remain in the top 4 after a 16-12 win over the Wests Tigers in a decent game of rugby league on Saturday afternoon at the Olympic Stadium.
The Dragons looked in control for most of the match, leading 12-2 at half time courtesy of a double from Gareth Widdop. But the Tigers made it interesting closing to 12-6 in the second half and 16-12 at the end with another late try, and threatened in the last few minutes.
St George Illawarra had enough to hold off the Tigers, and ended up deserving winners.
Here are some of the main points to come from the game.
KEEPING THE DRAGONS BIG NAMES FIT KEY TO A FINALS RUN
Gareth Widdop returned from a three game injury lay off to spearhead the Dragons victory against the Tigers with a great first half display which included all of the Dragons 12 points to half time.
The Dragons lost two of the three games in which he was absent for, and his strong running and general play and kicking was evidence of what they were missing. At times the English Test captain was mesmerising and leaving the Tigers defence in at least two minds about what he was going to do.
The second half was, as expected with a player coming back from injury, was not quite as electric as his first half, but he had done more than enough on his return.
Just as good was the Dragons number 1 in Josh Dugan, who is even more unreliable injury-wise. Backing up from Wednesday night’s Origin, Dugan had a great impact from the back and was unlucky not have a try to his name in the first half after a great field long movement was stopped due to offside half a field away.
St George Illawarra sit second as of Saturday evening, and very few would have predicted that at the start of the season, indeed they were amongst the favourites for last and first coach sacked. Still some question whether they are a genuine force for the finals, the glimpses from Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan today show they should not be discounted.
NOT TO FORGET THE UNSUNG DRAGONS HEROES TOO
As good as Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan were, it is the lesser lights of the squad that are really getting the job done for a side well entrenched in the Top 4.
Hooker Cameron McInnes and Paul Vaughan are two of those, and both were mentioned for NSW selection in the lead up to the Origin opener. Tim Lafai was good also, and Josh McCrone gets the job done. Russell Packer too has been great since being given his second chance.
But no one puts in like Jason Nightingale, and he was solid as ever for the Dragons. His reliability and versatility is vital to St George Illawarra over this period when Origin related absences and injuries take their toll.
It is the lesser names that get the job done, with the stars adding that little extra touch of brilliance to win the important games, and the Dragons have plenty in both camps at the moment.
JAMES TEDESCO WILL BE THE ONE DEPARTING BIG NAME THE TIGERS WILL MISS MOST
Fresh from a sensational performance at the back for the NSW Blues on Wednesday night, James Tedesco put in a very good shift for his club side which ultimately wasn’t quite enough to get them over the line.
Tedesco was part of the “Big Four” players who stole the headlines from the Tigers and, as they highlighted everything that is wrong the NRL Player Market policies by making their contract negotiations for 2018 the big news instead of the on field action.
Now that the fullback’s future is sorted, and is one of three that are departing, the Tigers will be most disappointed that he is not the one in four that is staying.
Similar to the Dragons custodian, it was a big effort to back up from Origin, and he looked almost as sharp as Wednesday night. A couple of great defensive plays kept them within touching distance and combined with general nuisance in attack from the back he gave the Tigers a sniff of victory.
His 50 metre run from the in goal in the 77th minute shows everything that is good with Tedesco, and showing he has plenty of heart backing up from Origin. Unfortunately it wasn’t rewarded with a try as he cut down brilliantly by his opposite number. It did provide the Tigers with the momentum to score their final try and make the final few minutes a nail biter.
With Luke Brooks staying, and Mitchell Moses and Aaron Woods being replaced by Josh Reynolds and Ben Matulino, they have sort of covered some of the “Big Four”, but have not yet covered the quality that Tedesco brings.
THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON KICK OFF IS NOT A BAD TIME, BUT PERHAPS IT’S BETTER IF THEY ARE PLAYED AT THE LOCAL GROUNDS
The Official crowd figure was a tick under 13,000, and cynics could question how many staff are included in those numbers, despite the excellent noise coming from the fans that were there.
And no one can blame the myriad of Sydney clubs for taking their home games to the Olympic Stadium given the financial benefit that comes with playing at Homebush, but perhaps for the early kickoffs on Friday and Saturday they would be much better being played at somewhere like Kogarah.
Given all the junior football being played on a Saturday it would be better if these earlier games were played closer to the home support, and it sure would create a better atmosphere and/or look a lot better on TV.
There’s always a balance with TV scheduling and fans, but there’s no doubt which way the NRL favours for the moment. And they appear to have bigger worries than crowd number for afternoon games. Give one of those early kick offs to Brisbane to see what kind of crowd you can pull.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 16
Tries: Gareth Widdop (12m), Gareth Widdop (28m), Tyson Frizell (50m)
Goals: Gareth Widdop 2/3 Conv
WESTS TIGERS 12
Tries: Kevin Naiqama (47m), Michael Chee Kam (77m)
Goals: Tuimoala Lolohea 1/2 Conv, 1/1 Pen (40m)