ST GEORGE Illawarra aren’t done with yet in 2017 after breathing new life into their finals charge with a convincing 42-16 win over Gold Coast at UOW Jubilee Oval on Saturday.
Back to back losses to lowly Newcastle and South Sydney had put their top eight hopes on tenterhooks, but they remain in the hunt after putting the Titans to the sword in a near faultless first half display.
The hosts completed 21 of 22 sets in the opening stanza in which they had 65 per cent of the ball and churned through a whopping 1100 run metres.
The dominance showed on the scoreboard, with four tries giving them a handy 22-0 buffer at the break before seeing off a mini-resurgence from the Titans to close out the match.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said his side hasn’t produced a better 40 minutes this season.
“I thought was the best [half] of the year, attack-wise and defensively,” McGregor said.
“We attacked aggressively early on but it was pretty simple, getting over the advantage line, getting some off-loads away and creating some second phase.
“Once we did that we put the opposition under pressure, we had high finishes to our sets.
“Every game this year when we’ve started well and gone seven from seven [completions] or six from six, we’ve been in the game right to the finish.
“The boys did that today. It’s not about doing a lot different, it’s about just knowing your role and doing it the best you can.”
Utility Kurt Mann made a fine fist of his start at halfback after Josh McCrone was a late withdrawal with a groin injury, scoring two tries and linking well with Gareth Widdop as the Dragons ran in seven tries to three.
It was a performance that will force McGregor to consider leaving Mann at the scrum-base for next Friday’s tough away clash with Brisbane.
That match will provide a much sterner test of the Dragons finals credentials than the Titans could muster on Saturday, with Neil Henry’s men having now conceded 96 points in their past two outings.
“Our finals started today,” McGregor said.
“We’ve got to win three of our last four and that was one today. Next week’s another test.
“We certainly know what we’re up against because [Brisbane] have put 80 points on two sides the last two weeks.”
The win saw the Dragons momentarily leapfrog Penrith into eighth spot with their looming round 25 clash shaping as make or break for both sides’ finals aspirations.
Mann opened the scoring in the ninth minute, latching onto a deft offload from Dugan. Widdop’s attempted conversion bounced off the upright keeping the score at 4-0.
The Dragons extended their lead through Jason Nightingale, who crossed off a sweeping back-line movement to push the margin to 10 after Widdop’s conversion.
The lead swelled further six minutes before the break with Joel Thompson charging onto a pass from Widdop and carrying two defenders across the line for the Dragons third four-pointer.
Widdop slotted the extras and when Nightingale crossed for his second three minutes before the break the Dragons had a handy 22-point buffer.
Cameron McInnes provided the ninth set of hands on a fantastic team try nine minutes after the resumption as the lead ballooned to 28.
The Titans briefly got back in the match with tries to Dale Copley and Anthony Don – who produced stunning grab of an Ash Taylor kick – before a Widdop steadied the ship with a penalty goal.
McInnes burrowed over for his second but the Titans hit straight back through Paterika Vaivai to give themselves a slight sniff with 13 minutes to play.
They looked to have more than that when Ryan James crossed two minutes later but the bunker found he knocked on in trying to ground the ball.
It was as close as the Titans got with Mann bagging his second try four minutes from fulltime to close out the victory.