ROUND 6: Gold Coast Titans v. St. George-Illawarra Dragons (Suncorp Stadium, 21/6/20)

There was no doubt that the big blockbuster of Round 6 was Roosters v. Eels, but the earlier game on Saturday was just as urgent in its own way, since the Dragons were desperate to show that their first win of the season against Cronulla was no fluke, while the Titans were desperate to make their way back up from the bottom of the ladder to give Corey Thompson a good welcome for his debut at Gold Coast fullback. Josh Kerr leaked the first penalty a few minutes in, with a late hit on Ash Taylor, who took the penalty kick to put the first two points on the board. This was a good start for the Titans, but St. George quickly got a repeat set when Taylor kicked too long at the end of the restart, and then another six tackles a few plays after. Josh Kerr and Trent Merrin headed up the middle, the Dragons got another restart, and Gold Coast ground in for an early defensive challenge, with Thompson holding up Kerr, Kevin Proctor holding up Tyson Frizell on the left edge, and Adam Clune letting the second bouncing pass of this sequence go begging, gifting a seven tackle set in turn to the Titans, who made good headway with their first couple of carries.

Gold Coast continued their early defensive surge next time the Dragons had ball in hand, keeping the Red V in their own end for the first four tackles, but Taylor booted through another overlong kick at the end of the next set, only for Corey Norman to drop the footy before he could get to the final play. The hosts had the scrum, and then got a penalty when Dufty broke early, making this their best chance at accumulating significant field position so far. Thompson took a big run on the second play, Moeika Fotuaika was cleaned up in front of the posts, Jaimin Jolliffe made a strong carry to the right of the posts, before Jamal Fogarty booted through a kick that looked like it might bounce over the dead ball line like Taylor’s two before him. Instead, Thompson stepped up and made his first really decisive gesture as fullback, chasing down the footy and almost grounding it before Mikaele Ravalawa sent it into touch. Norman went long with the dropout, but Gold Coast were at the ten by the third tackle, where Jolliffe ran hard and straight at Kerr and Paul Vaughan, before Euan Aitken make the first major trysaver on Fogarty, who almost crashed over on the right edge.

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Taylor kicked to the left on the last, where Ravalawa made up for conceding the dropout in the first place before collecting the footy on the full, and then receiving an a linebreak assist from Dufty a tackle later, making his way up the right edge for the fastest play so far. The speed of this sequence seemed to galvanise the Dragons, and so Norman consolidated after a few questionable last-tackle options with a kick off the right boot that Phillip Sami only just reached ahead of Zac Lomax, swinging out his left arm to bang it into touch in the right corner. St. George opted for a left sweep on the fourth play of the dropout, and returned to the left on the last, when Adam Clune grubbered to the corner, and Euan Aitken arrived at the footy as it bounced to chest height, only for Don to storm in and sweep it away from him, conceding the dropout but saving the try. This time Dufty’s linebreak assist paid dividends – a short ball that sent Lomax past Sami, who accelerated on his outside and then faded away as Lomax shifted off the left boot, leaving only Thompson as last line of defence, but unable to contain made another abrupt shift that saw Lomax swing around score behind the posts.

Lomax converted his own try a minute later, and the Red V accelerated further on the restart, thanks to a pair of bullocking runs from Vaughan, and a rapid play-the-ball on the second play. For a moment it looked like the Dragons might score off Norman’s kick, which bounced high and took a while to contain, but Thompson responded with his second big gesture at fullback, withstanding a strong chase from Lomax to wait, patiently, until the footy was safe, before gathering it into his chest and plunging back into the line. Ravalawa was just as safe under the next high ball, but the Titans responded with their biggest defensive play so far, as Taylor and Kelly both picked up one shoulder of Lomax’s jersey and dragged him over the sideline from ten metres out. James Graham and Bent Hunt were waiting to sub on, but even with that prospective burst of energy this was still a power move from the Titans, who could easily recover the upper hand if they managed to score here. They got a set restart on the second play, and Arrow stood in a tackle from Kerr, Merrin and Dufty right beneath the posts, before Don was forced to bring the ball back in from the right wing.

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Gold Coast now swept left, where Norman and Dufty only just stopped Kelly crossing over, before Dufty was trapped by a Taylor grubber in goal, cementing the Titans’ first significant bout of field position in some time. Before they got to the restart, however, Jordan Pereira was put on report for a high tackle on Thompson, who had been reeling during the last set, and now left his debut Gold Coast game prematurely for an HIA, replaced by Tyrone Peachey. This was a huge blow for the Titans just as they seemed to be consolidating, and they were considerably more muted when play resumed, despite a strong carry from Proctor up the left, before Jolliffe drew in several big men right in front of the posts. Proctor injected some more energy by almost twisting and spinning over on the fourth, but Taylor was caught up on the last play, and so had to resort to a flick pass that was forward anyway, but also collected by Lomax. Things got worse for Gold Coast when the Dragons received a restart on the very next tackle, as Dufty tried to send Lomax through again on the left, and Norman bombed to the left corner, where Sami knocked on during the contest with Ravalawa.

This was a big boost for the Saints, and a wasted Captain’s Challenge for the Titans, who decided to contest it. St. George got the scrum feed, and capitalised pretty quickly, as Pereira took the first hit, Blake Lawrie the second, and then Frizell the third, all the while edging towards the uprights, where Tyrell Fuimaono sent a deft offload onto Clune, who very nearly put Graham across beneath the posts. After such a dense sequence of front-heavy plays, it almost felt like an optical illusion when Norman took advantage of Gold Coast’s focus on the middle of the field to pop a harbour bridge out to Ravalawa unmarked on the right edge, bringing the Dragons to a ten point lead once Lomax slotted through his second conversions. Two big mistakes defined the next passage of play – Taylor’s bizarre decision to kick on the first tackle out of a restart, and a knock-on from Ravalawa on the first play off the scrum, five minutes from the siren. The Dragons made a successful Captain’s challenge to dispute a knock-on from Dufty in the air, and got another penalty kick when Tanah Boyd was called offside.

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Keegan Hipgrave had a rough run after returning from the break, starting with a tackle where he was deemed to have knocked the ball into Hunt before the St. George hooker lost it himself. The Dragons gor a set restart soon after, but Fuimaono lost the footy immediately, offloading straight to Fotuiaka. Nevertheless, the Red V regathered when Hipgrave was pinged for an obstruction play, and exposed the Titans on the other side of the field from Ravalawa’s try, thanks to a superb trio of passes from Hunt, Norman and Clune. Hunt got things going out of dummy half, Norman sent a swift ball to Clune, and the resident halfback dragged in several defenders before sailing a perfect parabolic pass across to the left edge, where the Steeden hit Pereira on the chest at speed, seeming to propel the burly winger over the sideline with the strength of its aerial momentum. Don stormed in from the middle of the field, but he was too late to stop Pereira, who sailed his whole body through the air while getting the footy to ground, before Lomax made one of the best sideline kicks of his career to bring the Dragons to an eighteen point lead.

On the other side of the Steeden, the Titans were yet to score a single try – or a single point since Taylor’s penalty kick – while Thompson was officially ruled out of the game fifteen minutes into this second stanza. Gold Coast got their next chance with a scrum feed, when Norman sent an overlong pass out to Ravalawa that bounced over the right edge, followed by a penalty after a scrum infringement from Hunt, and then a much-needed dropout when Taylor and Fotouaika dragged Lomax back in goal at the tail end of a Taylor kick. Two tackles in, however, Arrow offloaded to nobody, allowing the Dragons to clinically dismantle this acceleration of field position, before Taylor kicked out on the full next time he got boot to ball. By contrast, Hunt ended the next set with a brilliant grubber out of dummy half, trapping Boyd in goal for another St. George dropout. Taylor went short with the kick, but the Dragons still came up with it, and used the proximity to their advantage, as Vaughan and Kerr contributed a pair of punishing runs, before Jacob Host collected the footy from Hunt and stormed through Kelly, Bryce Cartwright and Erin Clark on the left edge.

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In the biggest letoff all afternoon, however, the try was called back for a forward pass. Finally, four minutes out from the end, Gold Coast got a consolation try, as Peachey tapped back a Taylor bomb for Boyd to slam over beside the posts bringing the Titans to eight points once Taylor made a pretty straightforward kick from in front. If Gold Coast could score on the restart they might just be back in the game, so it was a big comedown when Taylor lost the footy a couple of tackles in. Peachey took out the team’s frustrations with a dangerous hit on the next set, and Lomax missed his first kick of the night with the subsequent penalty goal attempt, forty seconds from the siren. They may have been playing the bottom ranked team, but this was still an emphatic win for St. George, who will be keen to make it a hat trick when they take on the Roosters next weekend, since a win against Sydney City would truly cement their journey back from their troubling start to the season. Meanwhile, this was a pretty dispiriting result for the Titans, especially after scoring two tries against the Bunnies, so they’ll be looking for a win when they meet an equally luckless Brisbane at Suncorp again next week.

About Billy Stevenson (732 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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