The St George Illawarra Dragons have sent out a warning to the competition favourites with a resounding 44-18 victory over the reigning premiers Penrith Panthers.
With the breeze at their backs, Saints scored three tries to two in the first half to hold tenuous 16-12 lead at the break.
The Panthers hit the front early in the second half and looked likely to go on with it. But The Dragons stepped up several gears scoring four tries in eight minutes to completely decimate the Penrith challenge.
DRAGONS 44 Tries: Cooper 4, Barrett, Head, Blacklock, Riddell Goals: Riddell 1/2, Head 5/6 defeated PANTHERS 18 Tries: Roberts, Wesser, Waterhouse Goals: Girdler 3/3
By the clock:
0 min: A near full house at WIN Stadium under sunny skies. A cool breeze blowing from the south will favour Saints in the first half. Thunderous applause as the Dragons come onto the field in the promotional Illawarra jerseys. Kickoff!
2 min: TRY - Dragons. Trent Barrett gathers up a Mathew Head grubber and scores under the posts, taking out referee Simpkins and colliding with the upright in the process. Conversion Mark Riddell. Dragons 6-0
7 min: NEWS - Saints getting plenty of possession. Penrith forced into a line drop out but the ball is misjudged and dropped by Mathew Head; the Panthers off the hook.
15 min: NEWS - Panthers getting more ball now and attacking the left flank. A Craig Gower grubber is defused. In the next play Lance Thompson makes a big run for Saints and then Barrett is taken high. Joe Galuvao (Panthers) is placed on report.
18 min: NEWS - Mathew Head (Dragons) kicks a 40/20.
20 min: TRY - Panthers. Amos Roberts leaps high to pull down a Gower bomb - the kick into the sun for Saints fullback Ben Hornby. Roberts gets over the top to score his eighth try this year. Conversion Ryan Girdler from almost in front. 6-all
22 min: TRY - Dragons. A sensation as Matt Cooper scores for the Dragons when Trent Waterhouse drops the kickoff behind his tryline. Cooper is on hand to dive on the loose ball 10m in from touch. A gimme. Conversion Riddell unsuccessful. Dragons 10-6
24 min: TRY - Dragons. Cooper gets two tries in two minutes as Mark Gasnier rips through the Panthers' defence. Conversion Head. Dragons 16-6
29 min: NEWS - Amos Roberts (Panthers) dragged into touch for the second time this match. Penrith looking rattled but not out of it by a long shot.
31 min: TRY - Panthers. Rhys Wesser scores next to posts after a Girdler grubber kick. Follows back-to-back penalties to assist Penrith down the field. Conversion Girdler. Dragons 16-12
HALF TIME: Dragons in front but the Panthers looking to get a roll on late in the stanza. The breeze will be favouring Penrith in the second half.
Half time stats: Possession: Dragons 52% Tackles: Panthers 154-127 Hitups: Dragons 89-66 Mistackles: Panthers 19-7 Penalties: Dragons 6-4 Score: Dragons 16-12
Second half underway...
42 min: NO TRY - Michael Howell (Dragons) unable to control a juggling ball and Panthers survive.
47 min: TRY - Panthers. Waterhouse gets a short ball from Preston Campbell and crashes through to score 12m in from touch. Conversion Girdler. Panthers hit the front 18-16
51 min: NEWS - Little bit of a dust up between Dragons forward Lance Thompson and Ben Ross. Dragons get the penalty.
54 min: TRY - Dragons. Mathew Head scores under the posts. Follows repeat barges from the short guys in Lincoln Withers and Head as they punch the line from close range. Conversion Head. Dragons 22-18
57 min: TRY - Dragons. Cooper gets a hat trick. Follows bust from Withers. Conversion Head. Dragons 28-18
NEWS - Dragons skipper Barrett off the field with what looks like a hamstring injury.
59 min: TRY - Dragons. Nathan Blacklock scores next to sticks after Saints make yet another bust from the kick off. NEWS - Rhys Wesser sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes following professional foul. In a sensational 5 minute period of the match, the Dragons take command. Conversion Head. Dragons 34-18
NEWS - Barrett will take no further part.
62 min: TRY - Dragons. Mark Riddell finishes like a winger to score in the corner. The Dragons are carving up the defending premiers. Conversion Head unsuccessful. Dragons 38-18
67 min: NEWS - Hornby (Dragons) on report for high tackle on Campbell (Panthers). A reflex action and Campbell back to his feet but it was a classic coathanger.
69 min: NO TRY - Withers for the Dragons is held up and rolled over the touch line. Follows a bust from Lance Thompson.
70 min: TRY - Dragons. Centre Matt Cooper gets try number four and with the rep season just around the corner, anything is possible. Follows bust from Nathan Blacklock. Conversion successful Head. Dragons 44-18
FULL TIME: A huge win for the Dragons over the premiers. The Panthers at times looked like they might gain the upper hand but it wasnt to be with St George running in five tries to one in the second half.
Fulltime Stats: Possession: Dragons 57% Tackles: Panthers 287-230 Hitups: Dragons 181-122 Mistackles: Panthers 42-21 Completions: Dragons 34-25 Penalties: Dragons 10-7 Score: Dragons 44-18
----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - M Cooper (Dragons) 2 - L Thompson (Dragons) 1 - M Head (Dragons) -----------------------------------------Like