The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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In their first game in the top grade the Dragons rained on the Titans’ parade with a narrow 2-point win, but today it was the Titans exacting a slight revenge of their own as they prevailed 15-14 at home.
Both teams opened their accounts early in a low-scoring first half, the Dragons scoring first through Daniel Vidot before William Zillman and the Titans hit back. After surviving an early assault on their line Zillman spilled a difficult bomb take under pressure from both the Dragons’ chase and his own wingman Kevin Gordon, and the Dragons capitalized from the ensuing scrum. Jamie Soward put the defence in two minds dancing across-field before straightening, finding Adam Quinlan out the back. The young fullback went for the line himself before producing a sublime flick pass in-field, allowing Daniel Vidot to muscle his way over the line.
The Titans got themselves on the board a short time later, quick hands on the right side attack from William Zillman and Jamal Idris putting David Mead into space on the wing. He found Zillman in support on his inside and the fullback was over for his first of the afternoon. Aidan Sezer was on target with the conversion, and the Titans went ahead 6-4 after 20 minutes of play.
The Titans had a number of sets in good attacking position but were unable to extend their lead, and instead it was the Dragons who scored next after Jamie Soward nailed a 40/20 kick to put them on the Titans line. Nathan Fien drifted across-field and feared he had been shepherded by a decoy runner, putting boot to ball in a desperation play as he ran out of options outside. The angled grubber looked too long, but a flying, never-say-die Jason Nightingale gathered it up from a favourable bounce and was able to ground the ball just centimeters inside the right touch-in-goal line.
A string of penalties put the Titans into good position in successive sets but they were unable to take the opportunities presented, until Nathan Fien infringed by diving at the ball from marker, debatably in the presence of the dummy half. On the stroke of half time the home side elected to take the shot at goal, and Aidan Sezer was able to slot the penalty to put the scores level going into the break.
The lockup wasn’t to continue for long, as nearly as quickly as they did in the first half the Dragons put on points to open the second, Nightingale scoring his second after the Dragons had withstood some early pressure on their line. As the Dragons pack charged forward Nightingale and partner in crime Jamie Soward schemed behind the ruck, Soward putting in a chip which Nightingale took over William Zillman’s leaping contest and the winger come fullback come winger again was able to force his way over the line for a try.
The Titans looked to be about to lock things up again when William Zillman streaked through a gap near the Dragons’ line to score, but the video referee controversially ruled that, as Aidan Sezer danced across-field, a decoy runner had obstructed the defence to create the hole in the Dragons’ defence. The decision looked to spur on the Titans and they produced more exciting play to go close twice more, once through Jamal Idris stampeding over Jamie Soward to make a half-break close to the line and when Brad Takairangi kicked for his winger Kevin Gordon, only to be foiled by the sharp reflexes of Jason Nightingale in defence.
After three unsuccessful attempts Zillman ensured the Titans had something to show for their constant trips deep into Dragons’ territory, hitting a gap off a Greg Bird short ball and stretching out to score, despite a strong effort from rookie fullback Adam Quinlan to take his legs well short of the line, and doubts over whether the ball had been grounded on the line or before it.
With 15 minutes left and the scores locked up it was time for a battle of the field goal kickers and it was the Titans striking the first, only and decisive blow, Aidan Sezer potting a one-pointer from just to the right of the posts just minutes after Zillman’s try.
The Titans had all the momentum and on the back of it went close once more, Greg Bird spinning out of a tackle on the left edge to put Brad Takairangi in space, who went wider to Kevin Gordon. Running out of space as the cover defence loomed Gordon put in a kick for the in-goal, and it was only the last-ditch efforts of Chase Stanley knocking Takairangi’s arm that prevented the centre from grounding the ball and sealing the game. Instead the Titans were awarded a penalty for Stanley tackling Takairangi without the ball and went back on the attack, but were unable to finish the job despite good field position.
The Dragons had mixed fortunes going to the left edge as they sought to get back in front, Vidot finding space in a long-range raid before kicking infield on one occasion and was stopped just short of the line by desperate cover defence on a third. The winger wasn’t as reliable in the air nor in defence, spilling a bomb inside his own 10m to give the Titans good field position late in the game. The home side couldn’t turn opportunity into points and the Dragons were twice given lifelines thanks to Titans errors, one letting them off the hook in defence and one in the final minutes giving Jamie Soward and gang a final shot at a leveling field goal. Soward’s attempt from 45m out was too short, and the Titans prevailed 15-14 in front of 12,117 fans.