Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
A spirited second half comeback from North Queensland wasn't enough against the ladder-leading Dragons, who held on for a 28-22 victory at WIN Stadium tonight in front of nearly 14,000 fans.
The Red V supporters were out and loud in Wollongong tonight, while North Queensland arrived without a playable Johnathan Thurston in tow.
Tonight's hosts started unleashing themselves on a disappointing Cowboys in the first half, with repeat set, and pressure right on the opposition line within the first 3min.
Nene Macdonald opened up the scoring with a wonderful bit of magic - a pickup from the boot, and a scoop before the ball hits the ground, and a fantastic dive over the line.
Unfortunately for the home team a mistake by Josh McCrone, passing forward off the following kick-off, saw the Dragons with a line dropout. On the last play of the ensuing set, we saw Blake Leary kicking a grubber through the defence, and Gideon Gela-Mosby takes it for a wonderful try!
For the first half, that was all the Cowboys had. The Dragons retaliated with four tries. A 40/20 attempt from Michael Morgan saw the ball sail over the touchline without a bounce. Tim Lafai scored shortly after,
Next, a seven-tackle set to the Dragons - gifted by a grubber from Kalyn Ponga that went over the dead-ball line - saw Kurt Mann take a wonderful flick pass from Lafai, and sailing over the line with a one-handed try. Not long after, a penalty conceded by Gavin Cooper gifted the Dragons another two points as the game crossed the half-hour mark.
The points kept piling on for the Red V - Jack De Belin broke the line on halfway, with a pass to Russell Packer, who was away, finding Widdop who cracked into the turbo gears and crossed the line! Finally, just before half time, Lafai went over for his second try! A fantastic pass from De Belin to Widdop set it up, who got it on to Lafai.
With 64% of the ball in the first half, the Dragons were dominant, leading 28-4 at the change of ends. You would have thought the 2015 premiers would at least know what to do while Thurston is out, but their completion rate of just four sets from thirteen in the first half told a different story.
The second half kicked off and the Cowboys had clearly lifted off the back of a halftime rocket from coach Paul Green.
Around the 55th minute, Ben Spina took a try from a grubber on the last, winning the race to the ball. Cleared by the Bunker, the Cowboys had discovered their scoring ability once more. A huge ten minutes followed for the away team as a glut of possession through repeat sets mounted pressure on the hosts.
That pressure finally tolled when a tries to Michael Morgan and Scott Bolton saw the Cowboys reduce the margin to just six points. The Dragons meanwhile looked dismal in the last half-hour of the contest, and far removed from first half form. With a bit of luck, they managed to hold out a strong attacking Cowboys side late to win 28-22.
St George Illawarra Dragons 28 - North Queensland Cowboys 22
Venue: WIN Stadium
Halftime Score: St George Illawarra Dragons 28 North Queensland Cowboys 4
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Gareth Widdop
2 points - Nene Macdonald
1 points - Timoteo Lafai
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS (28)
Tries: Nene Macdonald, Gareth Widdop, Timoteo Lafai (2), Kurt Mann
Field Goals: Gareth Widdop (0/1)
Conversions: Gareth Widdop (3/5)
Penalty Goals: Gareth Widdop (1/1)
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS (22)
Tries: Gideon Gela-Mosby, Ben Spina, Michael Morgan, Scott Bolton
Conversions: Kyle Feldt (3/4)