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Second half comeback keeps Magpies streak alive

Western Suburbs Magpies have produced a strong second half comeback to down the St. George-Illawarra Dragons 26-18 in their Round 12 Knock-On Effect NSW Cup clash today at Lidcombe Oval — extending their winning run to nine in a row.

Trailing 18-6 at the break following a dominant opening half from the visitors, Ben Gardiner's side overcame the loss of fullback Zac Cini to finish the better of the two sides — erasing their half-time deficit quickly after the break before holding their nerve in windy and blustery conditions at Lidcombe Oval for an eight-point win.

The result sees Western Suburbs move within two points of the ladder-leading Penrith Panthers, whom they face next Saturday at Lidcombe Oval.

Boosted by the inclusion of representative forward Jack De Belin for his first game in several seasons, St. George-Illawarra began the stronger of the two sides and quickly amassed a 10-point lead with early tries to Tyrell Sloan and James Schiller.

With Cini forced off with an ankle injury, Wests found themselves further behind when stand-in fullback Kiah Cooper was undone with a kick that allowed Adam Clune to cross and extend the Dragons' lead to 16 points.

Austin Dias' determination got the hosts on the scoreboard just before the break before a penalty goal after the half-time siren allowed Siti Moceidreke to push his side's advantage to 12 points at the main break.

Spurred on by a healthy crowd and a stiff breeze in their favour at the iconic suburban ground, Wests roared out of the blocks in the second half and soon erased the Dragons' advantage with some clinical attacking play down the right.

Billy Walters and Reece Hoffman combined to send Allan Fitzgibbon over untouched in the first set after half-time, before that duo caused havoc moments later to put Jock Madden over next to the posts — reducing the score to just 18-16.

A dominant run from Stefano Utoikamanu put the Magpies back on the attack shortly after with good hands from Hoffman sending Fitzgibbon over with an acrobatic effort to give the home side their first lead of the day. Jock Madden was unable to land the sideline effort in windy conditions, however, leaving the score at 20-18.

Not to be outdone by Fitzgibbon's spectacular effort, Tom Freebairn scored arguably the try of the day in the 54th minute as he collected a short pass from Madden on halfway — fending off four defenders before dummying his way past the Dragons fullback to score a spectacular individual try. 

With four tries in 13 minutes, Gardiner's men had blown the game wide open — now leading 26-18 and full of momentum as they dominated the proceedings.

There threatened to be one late twist in the tale when repeat ruck infringements saw Walters sin-binned with nine minutes remaining — forcing Wests to defend their eight-point lead with just 12 men for the final period of the game — but the Magpies showed enough resolve to hold on for their ninth straight win.

Wests will look to make it an incredible ten wins in a row next Saturday when they face the ladder-leading Panthers at Lidcombe Oval, with a win taking the Magpies top of the table for the first time this season.

Western Suburbs Magpies 26 (Fitzgibbon 2, Dias, Madden, Freebairn tries; Madden 3/5 goals) def. St. George-Illawarra Dragons 18 (Sloan, Schiller, Clune tries; Moceidreke 3/4 goals) at Lidcombe Oval