The race for the Dragons No.7 jumper remains wide open with all four contenders for the spot alongside Gareth Widdop come round one turning in mixed performances in the Dragons 20-10 trial win over Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium on Saturday.
A week after setting the Auckland Nines alight, young-gun Jai Field scored a try in the first half in which he partnered veteran Josh McCrone at the scrumbase, though his opportunities were limited as the hosts were held scoreless for the opening 38 minutes.
He swapped places with Kurt Mann, who started the match at fullback, in the second half with both providing some deft touches, while Shaun Nona laid on Kalifa Faifai Loa’s second half four-pointer with a beautiful grubber 10 minutes from fulltime.
Siliva Havili showed new acquisition Cameron McInnes will be no walk-up start at dummy-half with a strong effort in the second stanza with the likes of Josh Dugan, Tyson Frizell, Gareth Widdop, Joel Thompson, Paul Vaughan and Nene McDonald all absent from the clash.
The Tigers were also without their star back-line trio of James Tedesco, Mitch Moses and Luke Brooks but, the notable absence of skipper Aaron Woods aside, were virtually full strength up front.
After a 672 day absence from top-flight rugby league, Jamal Idris also made his NRL return, though it was a belated one with the former Test and Origin rep remaining on the bench until halftime and having few opportunities when injected in the second half.
The Tigers struck fist through Moses Suli in the eighth minute after Michael Chee Kam drew in two defenders and provided a deft offload for the opening four-pointer.
The Dragons were left with 12 men just four minutes after the resumption when Jack de Belin was dispatched to the sin-bin for striking, a call that seemed heavy-handed.
The visitors made them pay in the very next set with David Nofoaluma pulling down a deft floating kick from Jack Littlejohn and planting the ball inches inside the chalk for the Tigers second try and a 10-0 lead.
The Dragons eventually hit-back with Tim Lafai finishing off a deft exchange of passing involving de Belin and McCrone to barge his way across on the left edge. Field’s conversion attempt was waved away keeping the score at 10-4.
It stayed there for only a matter of seconds with McCrone providing an offload that put de Belin in the clear with Field surging in support to provide a classy 40-metre finish just seconds before the halftime siren. Field couldn’t add the extras with the Tigers taking a two-point buffer into the break at 10-8.
The Dragons struck first in the second stanza with Siliva Havili putting Tariq Sims through a yawning gap in the Tigers line to take their first lead of the contest 14-10 at the 50-minute mark.
The Dragons looked certain to score after Levi Dodd swoopped on a loose ball and streaked 60 metres up-field only for Field to spill the final pass with the try-line beckoning.
The hosts wouldn’t be denied minutes later with Fafai Loa swooping on Nona’s well-weighted grubber to score in the corner and push the lead out to 20-10 which proved the fulltime score.