Wendell Sailor’s NRL return fizzled out early in the night, the Dragons new recruit ending his night with a fractured cheekbone and an easy 28-10 victory to the Dragons at WIN Stadium.
Playing his first game of top flight football following the expiration of a two-year drug ban last month, Sailor’s eagerly anticipated first run left Ashton Sims sprawled on the ground and fans salivating for more.
But as the Dragons raced away to a comfortable 20-6 lead courtesy of some enterprising play against a severely understrength Broncos side, Sailor was a virtual passenger, ‘Big Dell’ left sucking in the big ones on more than one occasion.
His last involvement came five minutes before the break, a stray David Stagg elbow catching him flush on the cheek and leaving the dual international eyeing the prospect of another enforced layoff.
Given the form of the Dragons and the impending return of New South Wales stars Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper, it’s unlikely the Sailor will be missed too much over the coming weeks, with even his gate appeal having lost some of its lustre with a disappointing crowd of 11,432 in Wollongong.
While the Broncos were rudderless without their six State of Origin stars and suspended centre Justin Hodges, St George Illawarra continued to build on the confidence generated by their now four-match winning streak by running in five tries to the visitors two.
The win pushed the Dragons at least temporarily into the top eight, and they have now beaten the sides sitting in the first five places on the ladder.
It was all the Dragons early with Sailor’s enthusiasm infectious, Jamie Soward showing pin-point placement with a grubber ricocheting off the post and into the waiting arms of Ben Hornby for an early 6-0 lead.
Dean Young crashed over to extend the advantage before Greg Eastwood responded for the visitors, who struggled to make any impact in the Dragons red zone for much of the game.
The recovery was shortlived – three minutes in total – before Josh Morris, deputising for Gasnier, gave a fair impression of his more illustrious teammate to put brother Brett away for a 20-6 lead at the break.
The Dragons struggled after the break with Sailor’s injury forcing a massive reshuffle, and the Broncos threatened the unlikely when Tonie Carroll was dubiously awarded a benefit of the doubt four-pointer with the grounding looking more than a touch suspicious.
But Jason Nightingale put to bed any thoughts of a recovery with a double inside the final quarter to confirm victory and extend his lead at the top of the try-scorers list to a league-best 12.