ROUND 9: St. George-Illawarra Dragons v. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 12/7/20)

St. George totally decimated Manly for the last match of Round 9, starting strong and then accelerating to a thirty point lead in the final quarter of the game, while keeping the Sea Eagles to four points as Daly Cherry-Evans got the second sin bin of his career after getting his first against the Knights last week. Jordan Pereira was back from a two-game suspension and Morgan Boyle was in the starting side for the first time since playing for Gold Coast, while Cade Cust made the first mistake, with a fumble that Paul Vaughan scooped up. Ben Hunt followed with a forward pass, but Joel Thompson returned the favour with a knock-on under DCE’s next kick – a crossfield chip to the left of the field. Adam Clune wasn’t much better with the boot, electing to kick early on the next set, but bombing too far, giving the Sea Eagles seven tackles after Brendan Elliot caught the footy in goal. Cust steadied the ship with a well-weighted kick that trapped Matt Dufty in goal, and so Manly had the first dropout of the night, starting with a good offload out the back from Marty Taupau, before Euan Aitken responded with the first great defensive move of the game – a low tackle to prevent Moses Suli capitalizing on a cut-out pass from DCE to the right wing.

Brad Parker did well to pick up a bouncing ball from Daly on the other side of the field, but Manly had lost momentum, so it was terrific to see Thompson crash over a play later, hitting a short ball from DCE at pace before muscling his way through Corey Norman and Mikaele Ravalawa while Zac Lomax was left attempting an intercept. Yet these were the last Manly points all evening, and Lomax would well and truly get his intercepts, as the Dragons kept the Sea Eagles out for the next twenty minutes before mounting a steadily accelerating comeback. Two tackles later, DCE abruptly slipped midway through the tackle count. He managed to regain control of the Steeden, and get the Sea Eagles to their kick, but they’d lost focus, and Taupau was called offside early in the next set. Clune capitalised by kicking on the second, booting through a low fast ball that Elliot was forced to tap into touch after Aitken stormed up behind him, giving St. George their first dropout of the match. Vaughan took the first carry, and would have broken through the line on the third if not for a low tackle from Thompson, but it all came to nothing when Hunt made a rushed kick that ricocheted back into Manly possession, before conceding an offside penalty on the first tackle.

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Still, the Dragons slotted back into attack when Boyle lost the ball on play one, starting the period of sustained pressure that would eventually culminate with their first try. Dufty floated a beautiful high ball across to Ravalawa, who stayed in the the field of play despite considerable pressure on the right edge, before Norman shaped for a crossfield kick but instead gave Vaughan a run up the same side. This time Hunt came up with a better kick and, although Pereira couldn’t secure the ball, this was still one of the stronger St. George sets so far. Ravalawa got too enthusiastic a minute later, lifting Parker slightly above the horizontal as Taniela Paseka subbed on for Boyle, and Tapuau made a second brilliant offload on the ground, this time to DCE, before Suli almost broke through the line a play later. With a set restart, this was Manly’s best field position since they scored, and DCE actually tried to give Thompson a double with an identical short pass on play four, but the set fizzed over the last few tackles, partly due to a disorganized run from Reuben Garrick across the ruck.

Manly’s failure to score here laid the platform for St. George’s first try, which came two sets later, after Ravalawa made up for his dangerous tackle with a perfectly planned hit that sent Jorge Taufua onto his back. Clune, Aitken and Tariq Sims cleaned up a potential third offload from Taupau a play later, and Lomax cleaned up a spiraling DCE bomb after Dufty fumbled it. With that superb defensive set behind them, the Dragons continued to consolidate, as Hunt kicked over the sideline to get his men some breathing-space, which was augmented when Dufty was briefly examined after hitting the ground at an awkward angle. St. George kept Manly in their own end a set later, as Ravalawa made his third epic tackle of the night, this time on Lachlan Croker, and scored off the back of all that defensive pressure when they got possession again. After the big men laid the metres, with some help from Dufty, Hunt sent a short ball to Josh Kerr, who squeezed past Thompson and twisted through Elliot to score thirty seconds after coming off the bench. The Red V didn’t score on the restart, but it felt like they did, since DCE broke through the line a moment later only to pass the footy back to Lomax, who pivoted on his right foot and popped it across to Dufty on the right edge.

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The St. George fullback now accelerated down the sideline, goose-stepping away from Thompson and getting away from Elliot as Kerr had before him, curving around to score behind the posts, although Lomax wasn’t able to get the kick from right in front. Still, between Lomax’s swiveling pivot, and Dufty’s barnstorming run, the Dragons had finally accelerated into first gear, and would do the same in the final quarter of the game as well. Meanwhile, DCE’s night got worse when he dropped the ball cold right before the siren, although he was luckier six minutes into the second half, when he called a Captain’s Challenge to check whether he had knocked the footy into Hunt, as the referees had deemed. The Challenge was successful, transforming the call into a strip from Norman. Given that Pereira had just been penalised and put on report for a late tackle, this should have been a turning-point for the Sea Eagles, but the Dragons stepped up in defence, keeping the visitors out until Lomaz and Frizell followed Ravalawa with a huge hit on Taufua that forced the football free. A moment later, Norman sent a deft grubber off the side of the boot, forcing Parker to pop it dead, and the Red V had regained the momentum with the first dropout since the break.

Yet Manly now made their best scrambling defence so far to hold up two big men on the right side of the park – Vaughan, who was pushed back into the field of play by three defenders, and then Frizell, who carried the ball a metre over the line in exactly the same position, but couldn’t get it to ground. With Elliot catching a Norman kick on the full, the Sea Eagles seemed primed for a good attacking set, especially when Jack Gosiewski got away with lifting Ravalawa much further above the horizontal than Ravalawa had lifted Parker. It was a big comedown, then, when Norman’s next kick ricocheted off DCE’s shoulder, and Dufty collected it to make a second kick, tempting a professional foul from Taufua, who was sent to the bin as Lomax booted through the sole penalty goal of the night. St. George almost scored then and there, as Frizell popped a good offload out the back, Hunt kicked out of dummy-half, and then made a one-on-one strip on Parker to send Ravalawa across on the edge, but the try was called back when the replay showed that Parker had knocked on slightly in the process.

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The repeat set ended with Lomax putting down an ill-timed cut-out pass from Dufty, but the Sea Eagles were still unable to consolidate, as Croker aimed for a 40/20 on the next kick but instead sent the footy out on the full. Dufty did better next time he had ball in hand, sending a well-weighted kick past Gosiewski to the right corner, where Trbojevic was forced to tap it into touch, before correcting his cut-out pass to Lomax, who caught the footy this time, and then fended off Gosiewski and Parker before flicking the ball back to Ravalawa to score. With Lomax adding the extras the Dragons were comfortably in front at 18-4, but they would balloon that win margin out to 34-4 with a sublime trio of tries in the last eight minutes of the match. Tyrell Fuimaono and Euan Aitken glimpsed holes in the line eleven minutes out from the end and the Dragons got their next dropout a minute later, but it took a second intercept from Lomax to set this final tryscoring sequence in motion. Just after Elliot had defied the Dragons in goal by knocking the ball back twice and forcing an error from Ravalawa, Lomax collected a Cade Cust pass at the start of the tackle count and swiveled around as rapidly as when he collected the ball from DCE in the first act.

This time Lomax went from assister to scorer, despite Ravalawa clamouring for the footy on his inside, getting away from Elliot to put down four more points in the right wing. Three minutes later, Clune made best kick of his first-grade career – a bending trajectory and bounce that set up perfectly for Norman under the posts. In these final minutes, the Dragons’ spine finally seemed to be syncing as Paul McGregor smiled in the coaches’ box for the first time in weeks. Clune wasn’t done with the try assists, though, collecting a tap-back from Lomax beneath a Norman bomb in the last minute, before shifting the footy out to Aitken, who dodged between Garrick and Elliot to bring the Dragons to a 34-4 lead once Lomax added the final conversion. This was a critical moment in St. George’s rehabilitation – a rallying-point for the next couple of weeks – and puts them in a good space to take on the Bulldogs at WIN Stadium next Saturday. On the other side of the Steeden, this makes three straight losses for the Sea Eagles, and an agonising game for DCE in particular, so they’ll be looking for new ways to compensate for Turbo’s absence when they host a dominant Parramatta outfit at Brooky next weekend.

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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