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The St George Illawarra Dragons have overcome a 12-0 half time deficit to defeat a gallant Penrith Panthers 13-12 in a nail-biter at Olympic Stadium in Homebush tonight.
Coming into the match as rank outsiders, the injury-ridden Panthers made their intentions clear in the opening stages and were rewarded with a classy try to full back Rhys Wesser after just eight minutes of play.
Penrith continued to show plenty of courage before Saints went up a gear to put the visitors on the back foot. But the Dragons were met with some desperate defence and the Panthers were able to lift again through half back Luke Lewis to score their second try just before half time.
Down 12-0, the Dragons came out firing in the second half to score back-to-back tries. Back rower Ben Creagh (52nd minute) and winger Josh Morris (55th minute) made it a 12-all ball game, the home side effectively stamping their authority on the contest.
But an arm wrestle followed with missed opportunities from both sides while the mandatory controversial rulings from referee added to the drama.
A field goal to five eighth Jamie Soward in the 72nd minute broke the deadlock, the Dragons kicking on to secure their fifth consecutive NRL victory.
The Panthers loss was further exasperated with the news that fullback Rhys Wesser may be joining the casualty list on the sideline following a stomach muscle injury.
St George Illawarra Dragons 13
Tries: Ben Creagh, Josh Morris
Field Goals: Jamie Soward (1/2)
Goals: Jamie Soward (2/3)
Penrith Panthers 12
Tries: Rhys Wesser, Luke Lewis
Field Goals: Jarrod Sammut (0/1)
Goals: Jarrod Sammut (1/1), Shane Rodney (1/1)
Welcome to Homebush. Weather conditions fine for two teams on 16 competition points each, the Dragons with a better for-and-against in 6th position while the Panthers are in 10th position on the NRL ladder.
TEAMS: A few changes to the injury riddled Panthers having lost two more players. Dragons: As per the card. Panthers: Michael Jennings and Paul Aiton are out, replaced by Wade Graham and Masada Iosefa in the top 17.
DRAGONS: 1. Brett Morris 2. Jason Nightingale 3. Mark Gasnier (c) 4. Matt Cooper 5. Josh Morris 6. Jamie Soward 7. Ben Hornby 8. Justin Poore 9. Dean Young 10. Jason Ryles 11. Beau Scott 12. Ben Creagh 13. Stuart Webb Interchange: 14. Lagi Setu 15. Dan Hunt 16. Chase Stanley 17. Rangi Chase; Reserves: 18. Kirk Reynoldson 19. Jon Green 20. Jarrod Saffy PANTHERS: 1. Rhys Wesser 2. Luke Rooney 3. Michael Jennings* 4. Brad Tighe 5. Jarrod Sammut 6. Maurice Blair 7. Luke Lewis 8. Petero Civoniceva 9. Keith Peters 10. Matthew Bell 11. Frank Pritchard 12. Trent Waterhouse 13. Nathan Smith Interchange: 14. Paul Aiton* 15. Tim Grant 16. Junior Moors 17. Shane Rodney *OUT - replaced by Wade Graham and Masada Iosefa
Kick off soon...
8 min: TRY Penrith Panthers Fullback Rhys Wesser cuts through to open the scoring. Forward Trent Waterhouse involved in the lead up. Conversion attempt by Jarrod Sammut successful. Penrith Panthers 6-0
13 min: INJURY - Rhys Wesser leaves the field holding his rib/stomach area after falling awkwardly in a tackle.
15 min: The Panthers with plenty of ball and still 6-0 in front.
20 min: Still Panthers leading 6-0.
30 min: No change to the score. Penrith enjoying over 60% possession and a near excellent completion rate. Dragons having to do almost twice as many tackles and making a few errors, but hanging in there.
35 min: Still 6-0. End to end football developing with both sides now getting a few chances.
38 min: TRY Penrith Panthers Half back Luke Lewis scores to take the Panthers to a handy lead coming up to half time. Follows Dragons being forced into a line drop out and bit of soft defence in the next set. Conversion attempt by Shane Rodney successful. Penrith Panthers 12-0
Half time: Panthers 12-0 An upset on the cards with the Penrith side showing positive signs early on. Dragons evened up the ledger but are showing a lack of finishing power, Ben Creagh coming close to scoring amidst a few opportunities. It has been a bit of an arm wrestle at times and the scoreline is not a true reflection of the match, but the Panthers are deserving leaders at the break. News fom the sheds is that Penrith fullback Rhys Wesser has strained a stomach muscle and will take no further part. Wesser came off soon after scoring his try.
Second half underway...
50 min: No change to the score but the Dragons slowly clawing their way back with some possession and field position.
52 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Creagh scores for Saints and its game on! Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward successful. Penrith Panthers 12-6
55 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Josh Morris makes it back-to-back tries for the Dragons following a brilliant mid-field chip and regather from Soward. Conversion attempt by Soward successful to lock up the scoreboard. 12 all
60 min: Still evens, the Dragons edging ahead on the possession front.
65 min: Still 12-all. Panthers coming at the Dragons now in what is an entertaining match.
66 min: ATTEMPTED PENALTY GOAL St George Illawarra Dragons Soward misses penalty goal attempt. 12 all
68 min: ATTEMPTED FIELD GOAL St George Illawarra Dragons Field goal attempt from Soward. 12 all
72 min: FIELD GOAL St George Illawarra Dragons Soward puts the Dragons up by one. St George Illawarra Dragons 13-12
77 min: ATTEMPTED FIELD GOAL Penrith Panthers Sammut unsuccessful. St George Illawarra Dragons 13-12
77 min: Final minutes and we have a nail biter here. Dragons one point front.
79 min: Dragons in possession and still 13-12 in front.
Full time: Dragons 13-12 Saints have come back well after trailing by 12 at half time, grabbing the lead just eight minutes before the final whistle thanks to some clever play from five eighth Jamie Soward. For the Dragons, Catalans-bound Jason Ryles was an absolute stand out with over 170 metres gained and 30+ tackles and was probably the real difference in the end. Ryles was well supported by Ben Creagh and Beau Scott. Best forward for the Panthers was Trent Waterhouse with Petero Civoniceva also a standout.