Dragons 28 Wests Tigers 12
Wests Tigers fans could be forgiven for feeling a terrible sense of deja vu as for the second time this year St George Illawarra five-eighth Gareth Widdop was the difference as the 2010 premiers moved within striking distance of the top eight with a 28-12 win at ANZ Stadium.
Widdop produced one of the best first-half performances of the year, scoring two tries and setting up two others as the Dragons virtually put the game to bed with a 22-0 half-time lead. The signs were positive early for Widdop as he gave fellow Englishman Mike Cooper a saloon passage to the try line, only to be denied for a forward pass.
He didn’t have to wait long to get his name on the score sheet though, as a Dragons shift sent Brett Morris down the sideline before the Origin flyer delivered a pinpoint kick for Widdop to score. It was then Widdop’s turn to do the kicking as he supplied the bomb for Morris, who tapped it back for Gerard Beale for the second try.
In the 29th minute, Widdop was at it again when he was the beneficiary of a Mitch Rein break and perfect kick for his second try.
Widdop completed the 40-minute masterclass with one of his trademark scheming runs, which ended in a perfectly timed pass for Jason Nightingale to score.
To the Wests Tigers’ credit, they never gave up the fight. Two tries in four minutes got the home team back in the game after half-time.
Widdop’s opposing No.6, Blake Austin, led the fightback for the Tigers with a show-and-go try early in the second half. Skipper Robbie Farah then continued the fightback with a soft try from dummy half.
But it was Widdop who got the Dragons back on track with a penalty goal and stopping a possible try by defusing a dangerous bomb.
The Widdop-Beale-Morris combination then put the icing on the cake with a try down the Tigers’ fragile right edge to secure the two points.
Widdop’s halves partner, Benji Marshall, who was playing the team he led to premiership glory in 2005 for the first time, was confined to a supporting role for the majority of the afternoon.
On the same day he made his debut for the Wests Tigers 11 years ago, he was part of one of the more controversial moments of the game when he caught the restart from the first try, only to step over the deadline ball line. Instead of a dropout, the Dragons received the penalty to keep their momentum going.
In the end it didn’t matter as the resurgent Dragons kept their finals chances alive. They move level with the Wests Tigers as part of a logjam of teams on 22 competition points.
The Tigers’ loss was compounded by a shoulder injury to Keith Galloway, who left the field in the 19th minute and didn’t return. The team were also denied one of the tries of the year when Tim Simona was ruled to have bounced the ball over the line late in the first half.