Dragons 24 - Storm 12
For so many years the fourth wheel to Melbourne's big three it was all about Gareth Widdop at WIN Stadium on Monday night as the 24-year-old Englishman came back to haunt his old club in the Dragons 24-12 win over the Storm.
Widdop scored an early try, had a hand in two others and peppered former teammate Billy Slater with pinpoint high kicks all night as the Dragons broke free of a hoodoo that had seen them win just one of their previous 10 Monday night fixtures.
Josh Dugan also continued his love affair with the right centre position scoring a try and producing another crucial four-pointer for Jason Nightingale after sending a scare through the Dragons camp and Blues coach Laurie Daley when he stayed down clutching at a knee moments before halftime.
Dugan looked to have suffered a serious injury after falling awkwardly in a tackle from Blues teammate Ryan Hoffman, but played the half out on the right wing and showed no ill-effects on his return in the second half, laying on the crucial try for Nightingale.
Ironically it may well have been his last game in the No.3 jumper with Dylan Farrell expected to make an early return from a pectoral tear against North Queensland next week.
The tough victory sees the Dragons draw level with the Cowboys on 18 competition points with seven wins from 15 games ahead of their clash at Kograh on Saturday.
With a bye the following week, the Dragons could find themselves just one win outside the top eight should they beat the Cowboys, who have a dismal away record this year.
"Before the game we probably didn't know where we were at as a group," coach Paul McGregor said.
"We lost a tight one to Penrith who are a top four side and We played a real quality side tonight and we were 17 from 19 [completions] were up 10-0 and doing quite comfortably. That's a good rap for the boys and where they're at
"There were patches there in the second half where we had to defend really well and we went nine from nine with the ball which is important against a quality team.
"If you don't do that you get beaten because they've got world class players who can hurt you in every area.
"They're very dangerous on that left edge with Slater out the back so to let in only one try on that edge it's a real credit to what they're doing at the moment."
Widdop made an immediate impression against his old club with a break on kick return after five minutes though he was hammered in a great tackle by Slater.
Widdop's halves partner Benji Marshall forced a line dropout with a deft grubber two rucks later to keep the early pressure on the away side.
From the ensuing dropout Marshall delivered a beautiful long pass for Josh Dugan to make it five tries in three games in the centres and open the scoring for the Dragons at 4-0 after eight minutes.
Widdop struck again eight minutes later chasing his own kick and swooping on an awkward bounce for Billy Slater to extend the lead to 10-0.
Widdop continued to haunt his old side with a last ditch defensive effort that forced the ball from Sisa Waqa's grasp as the Storm winger attempted to ground the ball in the right-hand corner in 24th minute.
The Storm made no mistake on their next visit too Dragons territory when Billy Slater put Will Chambers, who was a late inclusion in the Storm line up, away down the right edge and backed up to score and cut the lead to four at 10-6 at the interval.
The Dragons squandered an opportunity to kick further ahead nine minutes into the second half when Adam Quinlan split the defence on the left edge only for Will Matthews to spill a pass close to the line and turn over possession.
Mitch Rein showed a much cleaner pair of hands minutes later with a brilliant pick up of a deflected kick from Marshall to score and extend the lead 10 at 16-6 with 25 minutes to play.
Dugan appeared to be in trouble again with a dislocated finger with 10 minutes to play but shrugged off the injury to surge into the back line and deliver a superb flick pass for Nightingale to put the Dragons out to an unassailable 20-6 lead.
Widdop put an exclamation point on the victory with eight minutes remaining with a bullet-like cut out ball for Charly Runciman to score in the left-hand corner and extend the lead to 24-6.
McGregor had to endure a late scare after a try to Kurt Mann and a tough conversion in the swirling breeze from Cameron Smith cut the lead to 24-12 but the Dragons, perhaps remembering an after the siren loss the last time the two sides met in round six, were able to tackle their way to victory.