The St George Illawarra Dragons and mother nature teamed up to rain on Jazz Tevaga’s parade in his 100th NRL game, with the Dragons defeating the Warriors 24 – 18 at a soggy Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Dragons were determined from the start with a moment of silence held before kick off for late great Johnny Raper, and the #8 jersey retired for the occasion.
The Dragons were eager to get another win, coming off 2 losses.
The Warriors had to make some changes to their line up, with Ben Murdoch-Masila named to start after the immediate release of Matt Lodge yesterday.
While they are still missing Wayde Egan (calf), Chanel Harris-Tavita (groin) and Bayley Sironen (osteitis pubis), they welcomed Euan Aitken (concussion) and Jesse Arthars (shoulder) back into the line up as they also looked to get a win after 2 straight losses.
The Warriors had a horror start, with Shaun Johnson fumbling the ball from kick-off, giving the Dragons possession early.
The Dragons made the most of their advantage, with Zac Lomax crossing in the first 90 seconds after Aitken failed to clean up the ball on the try line.
Lomax added the extras and the Dragons were off to a good start.
The Warriors hit back in the 10th minute, with Viliami Vailea scoring off a mid-air flick back from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Reece Walsh missed the conversion, but that didn’t bother the visitors as it was now a 2 point ball game and they were on the board early.
Shaun Johnson then scored his 1st try of the season, when multiple Dragons defenders failed to mark him. Walsh added the extras and the Warriors found themselves with the lead for the first time after 25 minutes.
Dragon Cody Ramsey brought them level when he went through some soft Warriors defence, and Lomax got them back in front with a successful conversion.
The Warriors weren’t giving up, as Vailea went in for his 1st career double after Johnson put up a cross-field kick. The Warriors went into the sheds at halftime with their noses in front 14 – 12, but it was far from over and still anyone’s game.
The Warriors came out after the break with a fire in their bellies, and DWZ put on a show as he scored with a mid-air flip in the corner in true DWZ style. Walsh’s kicking game wasn’t great, missing his 3rd conversion of the game.
Not many debutants can say they played alongside their brother and scored a try, but Michael Molo can tell that tale, presented his jersey by his mother and brother Francis.
Molo had an impressive debut, the 180cm 105kg prop scoring his 1st NRL try in the 47th minute, making 2 line breaks and running 60 metres off nine runs during his time on the field.
The score was 18 all and the discussion about a possible golden point finish began.
A line break from Ramsey lead to Lomax scoring his 2nd try of the game, followed by another successful conversion to take a 4 point lead with half an hour of play to go.
The slippery conditions tested both teams in their kicking, passing, and runs down the sidelines.
Frustrations lead to brain snaps – notably when Lomax twisted Freddy Lussick’s leg and forced him to the ground when Lussick wasn’t in possession of the ball.
While this lead to a bit of a scuffle and words exchanged between the sides, there were no sin bins or penalties as a result.
A leg pull from Walsh lead to a penalty kick, which Lomax kicked successfully to give the Red V a 6 point lead.
The pressure was building on the Warriors to find the line and once again level the score.
Warriors hard hitter Addin Fonua-Blake left the field with a foot injury – seen on the sidelines with ice applied. Coach Nathan Brown fears that Fonua-Blake may have a lengthy stint on the sidelines, with a suspected Lisfranc injury.
Fonua-Blake will have scans to determine the extent of the injury and how long he will be unavailable for.
The injury couldn’t come at a worse time, given that Lodge’s exit was immediate and he can’t be called on.
“It’s possibly a Lisfranc which isn’t great. He’s our best player – along with Tohu Harris” coach Nathan Brown said in the post-match press conference.
While the Warriors started to lose some steam, Ben Hunt was looking for an opportunity to put icing on the cake and make their lead a little harder to catch. Hunt made a field goal attempt with 37 seconds to go, but failed to land it.
The Warriors didn’t give up, with the ball being passed short and long across both sides of the field with 10 seconds to go, hoping to find a gap to break through, but the Dragons denied them one last shot to equal, holding on to take the win.
Warriors coach Nathan Brown believes “it was a pretty tight contest”. He also said it was “probably the best our ruck defence has been all year”.
“The problems we had today weren’t caused around our middle or our ruck, it was out a little bit wider where some blokes had some choices that weren’t the right ones”.
The Dragons play the Canterbury Bulldogs next Sunday afternoon at Belmore, while the Warriors will return to their home away from home in Redcliffe to host the Newcastle Knights on Saturday afternoon.
St George Illawarra Dragons 24 Tries: Z. Lomax 2, Ramsey, M. Molo Goals: Z. Lomax 3/4 Penalty Goals: Z. Lomax 1/1
New Zealand Warriors 18 Tries: V. Vailea 2, S. Johnson, D. Watene-Zelezniak Goals: R. Walsh 1/4
Loz’s Stand Outs: M. Suli (STG), C. Ramsey (STG), T. Amone (STG), AFB (WAR), Harris (WAR), DWZ (WAR)