It was a game Newcastle just had to win; a big home crowd and a chance to get back into the frame for the NRL Top 8. However, the Dragons machine continues to roll on – making it 7 straight wins as they roar up the ladder and give themselves every chance of a Top 4 finish.
There was even a chance for a couple of the Dragons old-stagers to bag what would have been high quality tries at Energy Australia Stadium, but regardless it was a comprehensive win by the St George IllawarraÂ side, defeating the locals 24-16.
The returning Wendell Sailor and the unwanted Knights prop Kirk Reynoldson, both looked set to cross for remarkable first-half touchdowns, but missed the line by the smallest of margins. Reynoldson was fired up against his old club and the man they used to call ‘Bush Tucker’ would have still left the stadium a happy man after collecting the win and waving to his old coach Brian Smith on the way out.
Sailor hauled in a Jarrod Mullen bomb near his own line in the 34th minute and, with vacant paddock in front of him – pinned the ears back and took off. Big Dell set sail for the corner, but he was run down by the younger legs of Mullen and forced into the whitewash.
Sailor admitted after the clash he was “shattered” to not score the break away try.
“9 times out of 10 I would make that play,” he said.
“I felt like I was running on a treadmill that last 20 metres … I was pretty shattered, I thought I should have scored that.”
Dragons prop Dan Hunt put Reynoldson into a yawning gap in the 24th minute, it looked like the Knights discard was going to gain the ultimate revenge over his former club.
Tragically, Reynoldson fell over inches short of the line.
But the near-missed proved no impediment to a seventh straight win for the visitors, who outclassed a determined but wasteful Knights outfit on their home turf.
Chase Stanley crossed shortly after the Reynoldson miss to extend the visitors early 2-nil lead, albeit amid controversy.
Stanley was given the benefit of what looked to be some serious doubt when the ball appeared to have been dislodged from his outstretched arm in a desperate cover tackle from Mullen, but video referee Phil Cooley awarded the four-pointer.
To rub salt into the wound, Soward was spot-on with the extras from the touchline and the Dragons had an 8-nil advantage after 27 minutes.
Newcastle had the chance to hit back in the shadows of half time with successive sets at the Dragons line, but a dropped ball from Chris Houston with the home side deep on the attack was to prove costly.
Within the blink of an eye, the Dragons had broken out of their own quarter courtesy of a deft inside ball from Rangi Chase to Brett Morris.
Morris surged up over half-way before linking with brother Josh, who streaked away to deliver a cruel blow to the Knights on the stroke of half time, with Soward’s conversion extending the visitors lead to 14.
Jamie Soward produced some light-stepping early in the 45th minute to cross and extend the Dragons lead, before comfortably adding the extras to extend the joint-venture’s lead to 20-nil.
It was starting to get embarrassing for the Knights when Jason Ryles powered his way over from close range to make it 24-nil, but the home side weren’t done with yet.
A cleverly worked short side play from the Knights resulted in a try to Junior Sau, with Kurt Gidley giving the home side a glimmer of hope after nailing the conversion from the touchline.
The Knights made an impressive line break shortly after the restart, and when pocket-rocket Sau dragged Soward with him over the line to notch up his second try in four minutes, Newcastle were back in the contest at 24-10.
Newcastle almost made it three tries in the space of nine minutes when Adam MacDougall came up with a clever bat-on to James McManus to go over, but the touch judge controversially ruled the play forward, halting the Newcastle momentum in its tracks.
The home crossed for a consolation through everywhere-man Kurt Gidley in the closing stages, but it was impossible to take anything away from the Dragons seventh straight win.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 (C Stanley J Morris J Soward J Ryles tries J Soward 4 goals) bt NEWCASTLE 16 (J Sau 2 K Gidley tries K Gidley 2 goals) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Referee: S Hampstead Crowd: 22,348