St George Illawarra avoided the embarrassment on finishing the Auckland Nines as the only side without a win as Brett Morris’ double fired them to a final-day victory over Melbourne.
Managing just three tries in soundly-beaten efforts against Souths (23-4) and Penrith (23-8) on Saturday, Morris scored the first and last tries as the Dragons salvaged some pride on Sunday.
Having left their big three Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater in Australia, an under-manned Storm looked capable of keeping their quarter-final hopes alive after leading 10-8 with only a few minutes left.
But back-up hooker Craig Garvey produced the pivotal moment, feigning to go right from dummy-half before finding an unmarked Morris in space on the left with a short 10-metre dash to the line. The Dragons ended up winning 14-10.
Big bopper Mitch Garbutt scored one of the best tries in the tournament, a length-of-the-field after-the-siren effort in a passage which seemed destined to be a Dragons try.
But after Charly Runciman tried to keep the ball alive the Storm first swung the ball to the left before Garbutt ended up with it on the right, fending off Nathan Green in a 40-metre charge to the line.
The efforts of Morris and Josh Dugan, predictably, were a highlight for the Dragons as they relished the greater space afforded to the speed men.
Morris backed up his two tries from the first day, pouncing on a Mitch Rein kick to open the scoring against Melbourne while Dugan grubbered for himself to pad the Dragons’ lead to eight.
St George Illawarra were never really in the hunt in their opening two games on Saturday, succumbing to a rampant Rabbitohs despite the best efforts of Dugan.
A Jamie Soward-inspired Panthers then effectively knocked the Dragons out of the competition on the opening day with a 15-point win.
St George Illawarra skipper Brett Morris opened the scoring for the Red V, but they were powerless to stop a rampant George Jennings and Eto Nabuli in the second half.
More in Monday's Illawarra Mercury