DRAGONS 34 TITANS 6
With Paul McGregor now officially in charge, St George Illawarra kept their finals hopes alive with an emphatic win over the Gold Coast at Kogarah on Sunday, setting up a season-defining clash with Brisbane.
After McGregor’s new three-year deal was announced on Friday, the Dragons visibly lifted to run in six tries against a rudderless Titans outfit.
If it was a sign of things to come under the new coach, Dragons fans still stinging from missing the finals for the past two seasons have cause for optimism.
However, their tilt at this year’s finals is still on a knife-edge, sitting two points outside the top eight and with a negative for and against, even after the 34-6 victory.
The win may yet come at a cost with Benji Marshall and Josh Dugan, both outstanding in the win, nursing ankle injuries after the match.
Marshall scored the Dragons’ first try and combined with Dugan to produce another for Jason Nightingale midway through the first half.
But it was a probing run by Marshall on an injured right ankle just after half-time to lay on a try for Gerard Beale that really sealed the match for the Dragons.
Marshall sent the first scare through the camp when he required treatment on the run for the injury suffered immediately following the break, but beat several defenders before finding Beale for the try that put the Dragons out to a 28-0 lead in the 55th minute.
He was given an early mark by McGregor.
Dugan also produced some magic in plucking an ordinary Gareth Widdop kick out of the air to score a spectacular try but left the field with a left ankle injury in the final 10 minutes of the match.
The star pair both finished the match with their feet in a bucket of ice, leaving them in doubt for the Broncos match this Friday night.
Scans on Monday will reveal the extent of both injuries but the loss of either would be a near killer blow to the Dragons, who need to halt a six-game losing streak in Brisbane before another must-win away match against Newcastle in the final round to reach the finals.
McGregor said after the match that Marshall’s heroics in the pressure of a must-win game illustrated the former Kiwi Test captain’s leadership qualities.
‘‘Benj was limping around for a while there but he needed to stay out there because we weren’t comfortable that we had enough points at that stage to get away with the game,’’ McGregor said.
‘‘That’s what you want leaders to do and experienced players to do. They need to show the way for the young guys coming through.
‘‘The composure that Benji’s starting to play with, he’s just going to get better and better.
‘‘He’s one of our most experienced players.
‘‘He’s not the bloke he was 10 years ago; he’s a different player and you can see in the last two weeks of football how far he’s come.
‘‘Once we got enough points in front, he came from the field. He was heavily in ice there, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.
‘‘Josh coming off at the end was more precautionary but he’ll get scans tomorrow along with Benji,’’ McGregor said.
Both left Jubilee Oval without the aid of moon boots and Marshall was confident he would be fit for the trip to Brisbane.
‘‘It’s sore. I rolled it over and I think I might have done some ligament damage but they seem to think I’ll play next week, so that’s the main thing,’’ Marshall said.
Despite running through the pain to produce the game-sealing play, Marshall played down the effort after the match.
‘‘That’s just what you do, if the team needs you, you stay on. At the time it wasn’t feeling too sore but after it happened it was really sore,’’ he said.