St George Illawarra Dragons first half masterclass blows Gold Coast Titans away

Comfortable: Jason Nightingale scores in the Dragons big win.

Comfortable: Jason Nightingale scores in the Dragons big win.

St George Illawarra's finals hopes remain alive after a dominant first half performance helped the Dragons to a comprehensive 42-16 win over the Gold Coast Titans.

The Dragons skipped out to a 22-0 half-time lead before the Gold Coast launched a spirited second half fightback. But the damage was done in the first 40 minutes as the Dragons' left-side attack tore the Titans apart. 

St George Illawarra were without halfback Josh McCrone with a groin injury, with Kurt Mann celebrating his return to the starting side in his place with the opening try.

St George Illawarra Dragons players celebrate after Kurt Mann scores

St George Illawarra Dragons players celebrate after Kurt Mann scores

The Dragons took the lead inside the first 10 minutes when Mann and Josh Dugan combined. A lovely cutout pass from Mann put Dugan through a gap, allowing the NSW centre to draw Blues teammate Jarryd Hayne before finding Mann with a return pass.

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Dugan could have extended the lead five minutes later, only to be denied by William Zillman who appeared to strip the ball short of the goalline, though the video referee bunker officials ruled Dugan lost the ball.

It wasn't to cost the Dragons. St George Illawarra didn't have to wait long for more points, with Jason Nightingale scoring his 14th try of the season midway through the half after a slick shift to the left highlighted by a long, spiral pass from young fullback Matt Dufty.

The Dragons went left again to extend their lead five minutes before the break. This time a short pass from Gareth Widdop saw Joel Thompson slice through and power his way over the line.

St George Illawarra had a fourth and Nightingale a second try before half-time to give the Dragons a 22-0 lead at the break. They were good value for their lead, in truth it could have been more. The Dragons' faithful gave them a standing ovation as they left the field.

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They didn't look like they were going to slow down either. It took them less than 10 minutes of the second half to score again thanks to one of the team tries of the season. There were nine passes, they started down the left, shifted to the right, Tariq Sims ran over Nathaniel Peteru, they came back to the left for Cameron McInnes to eventually dive over.

But the Gold Coast gave themselves a flicker of hope, finally getting on the board through Dale Copley despite the pass from Anthony Don appearing forward. They narrowed the gap further shortly after and, if the McInnes' try was one of the team tries of the season, Don's must go close for individual skill.

The winger leapt high above Nightingale to catch an Ash Taylor cross field kick. While Nightingale had hold of him, Don somehow managed to twist while in the air to plant the ball down one-handed and give the Titans a flicker of hope.

A Widdop penalty goal had the Dragons back out to a 20-point lead heading into the final quarter of the game before McInnes looked to have sealed the result with his second try, this time from close range, diving over from dummy half.

But the Titans wouldn't go away. Gold Coast won possession from a short kick-off and marched downfield for Paterika Vaivai to crash under the posts. The Gold Coast went close again shortly after when Don again got the better of Nightingale in an aerial duel, only for Tim Lafai to steal the ball as he was heading to ground.

The Dragons had time for one more, with Mann becoming the third St George Illawarra player to score a double. 

It was another disappointing result for the Gold Coast, beaten 54-0 last week by Brisbane and 26-4 by the Wests Tigers the week before. They have now conceded 122 points in their last three matches and look destined to finish their season with a whimper. 

The win lifts St George Illawarra back into the top eight, though it may be a brief stay if Penrith down North Queensland. But it gives the Dragons hope that they may still play finals football.

A potential play-off for a finals place against the Panthers in a fortnight follows a tough trip to take on the in-form Broncos in Brisbane next week. But the Dragons are still breathing fire for now.

St George Illawarra Dragons 42 (Kurt Mann 2, Cameron McInnes 2, Jason Nightingale 2, Joel Thompson tries; Gareth Widdop 7 goals) Gold Coast Titans 16 (Dale Copley, Anthony Don, Paterkia Vaivai tries; Tyrone Roberts 2 goals) at UOW Jubilee Oval. Referee: Ashley Klein, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski. Crowd: 8973

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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