DRAGONS 44 TIGERS 24
St George Illawarra reversed a trend of opening day blues after brushing aside the Wests Tigers 44-24 in a high-scoring shootout at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
In conditions nudging the high 20s on a sparkling Sunday afternoon in Sydney's west, two teams tipped to finish nearer the bottom than top showed why many expect them to be in the NRL cellar after sharing a thrill-a-minute opener.
More basketball than rugby league, last year's strugglers went tit-for-tat as each looked almost incapable of stopping the other when defending their own line.
Fortunately for Steve Price and a coaching career thought to be on the line in the opening six weeks, the Dragons twice came back from 12-point deficits in the first half to blow away an insipid Tigers.
Only problem was there was little improvement for the NRL desperately seeking a big crowd to ease the pressure from an underwhelming opening round.
Just 19,860 crammed into St George Illawarra's adopted home, vastly more than what it seemed on television with a sun-drenched eastern side of the ground sparsely populated. It was the first real test for the Dragons' home game shift which now includes ANZ Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground as regular bases.
Yet it probably won't matter for Price, who could largely thank the input of marquee man Gareth Widdop who emerged from Melbourne Storm orchestrator to St George Illawarra conductor.
The five-eighth directly laid on three tries as a rampant Dragons blew the Tigers away either side of half-time. Widdop also was faultless with the boot kicking eight goals without blemish.
He'll have to a little bit more organising as well after Michael Witt dislocated a shoulder during the second half and played no part in the last half hour.
Tyson Frizell scored twice for the Dragons, the second after a deft inside ball from Widdop, while Mitch Rein's no-frills effort late on and a runaway Adam Quinlan four-pointer put the Dragons out of reach.
The second-half scoring spree was only slightly stifled compared to the first stanza, where the points didn't just keep up with the clock but mostly outdid it.
Despite the buzz surrounding Luke Brooks after he tore apart the Dragons in his first NRL game, it was James Tedesco who turned out to be the Tigers' star turn.
He laid on Pat Richards' first try in the NRL since his English Super League hiatus with a sumptuous long ball before Tedesco did it all himself, scorching almost 60-metres after Liam Fulton and popped up a loose ball courtesy of a Brett Morris mistake.
Frizell crashed over from close range to post St George Illawarra's opening points, but it did little to instill confidence after Robbie Farah controversially restored the Tigers' 12-point buffer minutes later.
The Tigers skipper feigned one way and went another from dummy-half, wrestling with Ben Creagh and Widdop over the line. On field referee Ashley Klein sent the decision upstairs after indicating a try and despite several replays failing to show the ball hit the turf, the green light was flashed.
Fulton and Tedesco then combined again, this time with sickening effect, as the back-rower was left concussed after retreating to field a Witt chip when cannoning into his fullback's knee. Creagh crashed over on the same play as the Tigers veteran lay motionless on his 30-metre line.
And the Dragons levelled up when Beale scored his first try for the Red V on a sweeping left-hand play.
Widdop's after-the-siren penalty sent the Dragons to the sheds up by two points. It was the first time the Dragons led and their crack English recruit ensured they would never relinquish it.
Meanwhile, St George Illawarra's under-20s winger Matthew Dufty bagged four tries as the young Dragons ran riot over the Tigers in the coaching debuts of Ben Hornby and Dean Young.
Izaac Thompson scored a hat-trick of four-pointers himself as St George Illawarra waltzed to a 46-14 win in their season opener.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 44 (Tyson Frizell 2, Ben Creagh, Gerard Beale, Michael Witt, Mitch Rein, Adam Quinlan tries; Widdop 8 goals) defeated WESTS TIGERS 24 (Pat Richards, James Tedesco, Robbie Farah, Martin Taupau tries; Richards 4 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referees: Ashley Klein, Phil Haines. Crowd: 19,860.