MAYBE Adam Gee wanted to leave the ground early.
The explanation for standby referee Matt Cecchin taking the whistle at halftime was a calf injury, but blowing the penalty that denied Cody Ramsey a first-half hat-trick hardly endeared Gee to the Wollongong faithful.
He was even less popular at the Freemasons Hotel in Molong that was offering a free schooner for every try the 20-year-old scored. The first two rounds on the house came quickly, Ramsey scoring his first try with his first touch 16 minutes in.
His second five minutes before the break was enough to put a tear in his mum Kim's eye, but that joy turned to rage when Gee called back her boy while en route to his third try 30 seconds before the halftime siren.
The questionable off-side call on Zac Lomax after Ramsey had already snaffled an intercept and raced upfield did more than just spoil the fun, it was the key moment in the match.
Had Ramsey planted the ball under the posts it would have given his side 14-12 halftime lead. Instead, they ended up 14-8 down after Jarrod Croker nailed the penalty from just inside the sideline chalk.
The Raiders skipper crossed for the first try after the break for an 18-8 lead and it was all the visitors from there, with a side bent on grand final redemption several classes above the Dragons in a 37-8 win.
The elation around Ramsey's first-half effort seemed a distant memory by the final siren, with the Dragons folding badly in the second 40 and leaving interim coach Dean Young filthy with the effort.
"I thought [Ramsey] was outstanding, he's what this club should be about, but it's a bit disappointing for the group that a 20-year-old kid making his debut was our best player," Young said.
"We're all a bit embarrassed by that performance. The fans that turned up today would've liked to see a much better performance. As a coaching group, as a playing group, we would've liked to deliver a much better performance than we did.
"We're down on confidence, we've been losing a lot this year, we've been losing a lot the last two years, our confidence is down and we're just not nailing the stuff with the ball that we need to.
"Defensively we try hard some of the time, just not all the time. Before today we'd let in 22 tries on the last tackle. We spoke about that and really focused on the last play because Canberra are good at it and we let in another two tries.
"That's the most of any side in the competition. That backs up what I'm saying, we try some of the time not all the time. We try hard for four tackles, just not six, and it's bringing us undone at the moment."
Young said Ramsey will definitely be there against Newcastle next week, but he will consider other changes after a third straight defeat.
Jacob Host injured a calf muscle in the warm-up, ruling him out late, with a number of other young-guns waiting in the wings.
"It's a bit raw at the moment but I'll look at the video closely and have a look at players' performances and I'll make a call early in the week and let them know nice and early who's playing against the Knights," Young said.
Ramsey crossed with his first touch 16 minutes in, with a neat in and away on Semi Valemai to cross in the corner and send fans who've long clamoured for his debut into early raptures.
Jordan Pereira got a horror bounce trying to field a George Williams kick five minutes later, with Rapana reeling it in and throwing the first of three off-loads that saw Wighton cross for his side's second four-pointer and a 12-4 lead with Croker's conversion.
Norman put the ensuing kickoff dead on the full as the wheels starting coming off for the hosts. They repelled the first raid but were back under the pump when Papalii levelled Cam McInnes with one of the shots of the year.
Mercifully Williams spilled the ball cold in the next set, the Dragons dodging what could've been a fatal bullet just eight minutes before the break. They fired their own back, with Ramsey benefitting from another lofted ball that snuck past Valemai to skirt the touchline and grab his second try.
He was denied his hat-trick on the stroke of halftime, with Croker rubbing salt in the wound by nailing the penalty goal for a six-point cushion at the break.
Croker grabbed the first try of the second half off a neat grubber on the run from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and John Bateman's try 11 minutes later after Young breezed through the Dragons defensive line effectively put the match to bed.
Wighton strolled across for his second try on their next trip up the park to extend the margin that swelled beyond 30 when Valemai crossed out wide with 11 minutes to play.
Williams' 77th minute field goal, his first in the NRL, was the exclamation point on the victory that keeps them in the hunt for a top-four finish.