BRONCOS 36 DRAGONS 20
A slow-starting St George Illawarra’s unbeaten run this year came to screeching halt as the Brisbane Broncos wrecked the Dragons’ Wollongong homecoming on Friday night.
Trailing by 14 points midway through the first half, the Dragons never quite recovered as traditional bogey side Brisbane strung together a seventh straight win against the Red V courtesy of an entertaining 36-20 victory.
It was pencilled in before the season as a match which could decide the fate of two under-pressure coaches, but perhaps it’s now Steve Price who’s thinking his side had stumbled across a false dawn.
Three wins after three rounds, but the real test was going to come after that. With premiership heavyweights Souths and Melbourne laying in wait, the next fortnight doesn’t look inviting. The Dragons’ first loss leaves the Storm as the only unbeaten side in the competition.
And the Red V will have to quickly find a solution to paper over a raft of cracks developing in their defence, shunted to one side amid the buzz of a new-found freedom in attack.
Twice the Broncos crashed over from simple one-pass plays close to the line as Sam Thaiday - and more so Todd Lowrie - left a scrambling Dragons defence red faced.
"We're still learning about ourselves and it has been a positive start [to the season]," Price said. "We put ourselves in a position [Friday night] to win that footy game. We didn't play with any composure or smarts there for a few minutes. That put us on the back foot and I thought the game was won in that five to eight minute block there [after half-time].
"To get back within two we'll live and learn, dust ourselves off and get ready for next week."
In truth the match should have almost been over as a contest before half-time, with ex-Dragons enigma Daniel Vidot's ham-fisted effort at catching and falling over the line leaving him wishing he had never returned to WIN Stadium. Maybe sleeping in would have been a better option, which of course cost him a final appearance in Dragons colours last season before he was granted an early release from his contract.
Quizzed on his blood pressure was at the time, Broncos coach Anthony Griffin said: "Not good."
Pressed on what he thought of it, Griffin smirked: "What did you think of it? You sort of knew it was going to be a funny old game when those things happen. It wasn't going to be easy."
The Illawarra's Dragons fans voted with their feet as just 10,526 filed through the gates of WIN Stadium for one of only four matches in Wollongong this season. Their next chance? That won't be until June.
Those who did brave the mild conditions would have at least left feeling like they got value for money. If any two sides are an example of how to adapt to the new laws speeding up the game, it's the Broncos and Dragons.
All week the Dragons spoke about the need to counter a fast-starting Broncos. As they found out, talk is cheap.
Price would have been having flashbacks to the early carnage the Tigers wreaked on the Red V in round one as Matt Gillett crashed over twice inside the first 10 minutes.
"We played some reasonable footy in parts [on Friday night], but full credit to the Broncos," Price said. "They hung a little bit better than us, [but] we've got a good footy team here."
Jason Nightingale crossed either side of half-time, one a spectacular aerial effort which showed there's more than one Dragons winger worthy of donning the Superman cape. Speaking of Brett Morris, his first-half try equalled his father's tally of 102 four-pointers in the top grade.
But it was about the only milestone the Dragons are likely to remember from the night as tries to Dale Copley and the impressive Ben Hunt - either side of a scintillating Gerard Beale effort - had the Broncos in cruise control late on.
Meanwhile, St George Illawarra's National Youth Competition side kept their unbeaten run intact and handed the Broncos their first loss with a commanding 44-14 win in the curtain raiser.
BRISBANE BRONCOS 36 (Matt Gillett 2, Sam Thaiday, Todd Lowrie, Dale Copley, Ben Hunt tries; Corey Parker 6 goals) defeated ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 20 (Jason Nightingale 2, Brett Morris, Gerard Beale tries; Gareth Widdop 2 goals) at WIN Stadium. Referee: Gerrard Sutton, Gavin Morris. Crowd: 10,526.