The St. George Illawarra Dragons have defeated the Wests Tigers 44-24 in Round 1 of the 2014 NRL season in front of a strong crowd of 19,860 at ANZ Stadium.
The visiting Wests Tigers started the stronger of the two teams, with Pat Richards crossing in the left corner with his first touch of the football after a cut-out ball from James Tedesco.
The winger converted his own try in his first NRL game for the club since the 2005 Grand Final to give the visitors a 6-0 lead after just five minutes.
It would be 12-0 not long after that when a strong tackle from Martin Taupau and Aaron Woods forced the ball free on halfway. Tedesco showed his blistering speed by accelerating quickly through a gap and rounded Adam Quinlan at the back to score under the posts. Richards duly slotted the extras from right in front.
After back-to-back penalties put them firmly on the attack, the Dragons got on the board through Tyson Frizell, who crashed over next to the posts to reduce the gap to six points.
When captain Robbie Farah snuck over from dummy half in the 19th minute to extend the lead back to 12 points, the Wests Tigers appeared to be in real control of the match, and headed for an impressive Round 1 performance. However, a match-changing incident in the 24th minute saw Ben Creagh score out wide and the visitors a man down on the bench.
Michael Witt’s chip kick over the top saw a heavy collision between Tedesco and Liam Fulton, with both players lying on the ground — the latter of which was knocked out. Referee Ashley Klein allowed play to continue, and the following tackle, a cut-out pass from Brett Morris found the Dragons’ skipper running a nice hole to score out wide on the left wing.
Gareth Widdop converted from the sideline to reduce the score to 18-12.
The Dragons would level the match in the 32nd minute through Gerard Beale, who beat his opposing man in Keith Lulia after a nice pass from Widdop. The former Melbourne Storm five-eighth would nail his conversion from the sideline again to level the match at 18-all.
As news trickled through that Fulton was up and walking from his previous concussion, the Dragons threatened to score just before the break would take the lead when a Widdop penalty goal sailed through the posts right on the stroke of half-time.
That gave the Dragons a 20-18 lead at half-time, having been down 18-6 earlier.
The hosts started the stronger of the two sides in the second half when Michael Witt scored a try on his debut for the club. Widdop had appeared to obstruct Aaron Woods from making a tackle in the build-up, but the video referee gave the green light for the try to be awarded close to the posts. Widdop would make no mistake with the conversion.
Martin Taupau also scored a try on his Wests Tigers debut when he ran on to a great short ball close to the line and forced his way next to the posts over despite plenty of defensive attention. Richards duly added the two and the visitors were right back in the match.
However, from there, it would be all the home side at both ends of the field.
Quinlan was denied a try in the 55th minute when Witt’s pass was ruled forward in the in-goal, and the halfback never returned after that moment with a dislocated shoulder.
Yet they would get over the line soon after, when a nice inside ball close to the line caught out the Wests Tigers’ defense and Frizell burst through for his second try of the day.
Widdop made it five from five with another conversion.
Hooker Mitch Rein got on the board in the 65th minute when he scooted over from dummy half, and that extended the lead beyond two tries to 14 points. And while the Wests Tigers would throw everything at their opponents in the final 20 minutes of the game — including a try to Marika Koroibete that was ruled forward — it would be the visitors who had the final say of the day as Quinlan scored under the posts in the 78th minute.
Fancy footwork from Jason Nightingale had created some space in the middle behind tired forwards, and Quinlan was on hand to beat Tedesco and score.
That would be the final score of the game as the Dragons finished 20-point winners.
The Wests Tigers will be looking forward to bouncing back next weekend when they take on the Gold Coast Titans at Robina Stadium at 2:00pm local time.
St. George Illawarra Dragons — 44
Tries: Frizell 2, Creagh, Beale, Witt, Rein, Quinlan
Goals: Widdop 8/8
Penalites: Widdop 1/1
Wests Tigers — 24
Tries: Richards, Tedesco, Farah, Taupau
Goals: Richards 4/4