ST GEORGE Illawarra fans are famously demanding, but it was hard to argue with the sentiments of the red v faithful as they booed their side off the paddock at halftime on Sunday afternoon.
They’d just watched their side surrender a 10-0 lead to trail Newcastle 28-10 at the break after a first-half hat-trick to Knights cult figure Nathan Ross in the space of just 12 minutes.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Brendan Elliot also got across in a disastrous opening stanza for the hosts, allowing the Knights to post their second biggest score of the season in just 40 minutes of football.
It saw the Dragons staring down the barrel of a sixth – and certainly worst – loss in their past eight games before a second half revival, led largely by Origin stars Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell, saw them escape 32-28 winners.
It came with just a 39 per cent share of football in the first half with coach Paul McGregor saying it was a simple fix in the second 40.
“It wasn’t about winning the game at halftime it was about going out and playing the footy we know we can,” McGregor said.
“The win would have been a bonus, which it is, but the boys really showed what sort of footy we can play when we get our possession.
“Our possession rate over the last three weeks was less than 70 per cent before today, and to start the first half we were at 37 per cent.
“It wasn’t about motivation. We’ve done really well in this competition playing a high quality simple game of footy and I thought the first 15 minutes came really easy for us.
“We started to try and play too much footy which led to errors and we didn’t have any ball in the second part of that first 40 minutes and they piled on a couple of tries.
“I always thought if we held the footy, ran hard, kicked long, we’d find a way back into the game and opportunities would come. Obviously they did in a 22-0 second half.
Dragons fans still have some cause for concern given their side’s only wins since round seven have come against the two bottom placed sides and a Warriors outfit that has spent the entire season outside the top eight.
McGregor hoped his side’s second half effort can reboot their season after hitting some mid-year wobbles.
“It was a big thing about defining who we are and the only place you can get confidence is out on the grass,’ McGregor said.
“You can’t go and knock on a window and go shopping for it anywhere. You’ve got to earn it and I’m really happy we did that in that second 40 minutes. Hopefully that will kick-start us.”
If the first-half effort wasn’t enough to keep McGregor up at night, he could also be without star forward Paul Vaughan for a number of weeks after he limped from the field with a calf injury just four minutes into the match.
For the Knights, the loss told the story of their season with Nathan Brown’s young side full of enthusiasm, but lacking the maturity to close a game out.
“Take the first 10 minutes out, the next 30 minutes we played was as good as we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Brown said.
“Then that 25-30-minute period, we’ve been beaten up a few times over the last 18 months, but that was as disappointed as I’ve been as well.
“Whether it be mentally, physically, we’re just not strong enough at the moment to play for a long enough period. It’s not 80 minutes, we can’t play for 60 at the moment.
“None of our boys have ever led 28-10 at halftime, they just don’t know what it’s all about yet.
“At the end of the day, Frizell and Dugan lifted, they’re world-class players, and we just didn’t have the guys who could lift with them.”
After trailing by 18 at the interval, the Dragons made quick work of the deficit with Joel Thompson planting a grubber from Widdop seven minutes after the resumption.
Dugan barged across from dummy-half five minutes later and when Nightingale bagged his hat-trick from a Widdop long-ball six minutes later, the Knights cushion disappeared completely.
Kurt Mann re-took the lead 13 minutes from fulltime and the Knights couldn’t reel it in, with Mitch Barnett dropping their last chance at a go-ahead try over the Dragons line with two minutes left.