FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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MAJOR PRELIMINARY SEMI FINAL Sydney Football Stadium - September 5 1993
Wayne Collins is sick of being in the shade...he announced that loud and clear at the Sydney Football Stadium last Saturday. One of the lesser lights on a field displaying some of Rugby Leagues richest talent, Collins was a brilliant ringmaster as St George buried Canberra 31-10 to put the Dragons on line for their second successive Winfield Cup grand final appearance. The curly haired number 9 may not have scored a try, topped the tackle count or made too many of those incisive runs that the fans always seem to remember. But what he did do was drive his soldiers on when it was patiently obvious the Raiders were well and truly out on their feet. Collins played in the shadow of Test hooker Steve Walters for 3 seasons at Canberra , then moved to Kogarah for his chance to make it into first grade.But 3 weeks ago the shade appeared again when he was dumped by Saints for the brilliant young Nathan Brown. Brown, in fact, came on for the final 13 minutes against Canberra last Saturday, but not until Collins had done his immaculate job.His astute dummy half work, defensive mopping up around the rucks and trademark kicks for touch throughout the match belied his general lack of status in the game. Collins, though, typifies St George.While it is a hackneyed clich?, the Dragons do typify the term "champion team". Their only scrapbook stars are internationals Brad Mackay and Scott Gourley - Mackay seemingly as a permanent test reserve and Gourley as a virtual afterthought to tour Papua New Guinea 2 years ago. But when it comes to rolling up the sleeves and sticking rigidly to the game plan, Saints are top of the pile.With little fanfare they have beaten the 3 remaining semi finalists, Canterbury, Brisbane and Canberra - in the past 3 weeks, scoring 70 points to 28. They were very impressive, yet coach Brian Smith steadfastly refuses to acknowledge they have reached top form - publicly, at least. "I didn't think we were all that brilliant"he said after their slashing 5 tries to 2 win over the Raiders. "We can play better. We haven't nearly completed the job we started out to do.But things are going pretty much to plan". Players he could not criticise were Collins, centre Mark Coyne, teenage 2nd rower Gordon Tallis and lock Brad Mackay.Amongst a host of great players for the Dragons, this quartet were simply outstanding. Canberra were lacking in just about every facet of the game, and try as they might to disregard the Ricky Stuart factor, his absence is simply just too vital to ignore. Without him the Raiders are rudderless.Coach Tim Sheens has obviously played every hand at his disposal, yet the spark to fuel the Green Machine cannot be ignited. They came out with all guns blazing at the weekend, and for the first 20 minutes made it a terrific contest.Yet their major source of attack was from the kick, not from line breaks.In fact, in the first half, they never busted the Dragons line of defence. Strangely, when the ball went to their normally potent backs, they often elected to kick, rather than run.It was as though they had no confidence at all in their running game, despite the fact their 2 wingers have scored 35 tries between them this season. Once Mark Coyne exploited 2 wide defensive weaknesses in the 24th and 37th minutes, that was it for the Raiders. The first of Phil Blakes 2 tries 6 minutes into the 2nd half, to make it 19-0, brought down the curtain on a fortnight of absolute despair for a side that had been one of the premiership hotshots all season. Few of the Raiders raised their hands for recognition, with Quentin Pongia and Jason Croker the best of a disjointed outfit.
THE BIG PLAY Came when the game was as good as over, even though it was only 15 minutes into the 2nd half.Saints had made inroads down the western side and switched the ball to the open with their troops lined out and the Raiders defence set. But a deft delayed pass from Noel Goldthorpe to a straight running Phil Blake put the veteran bench player over for his second try in 9 minutes, and at 25 - 0 the Dragons had slain the Raiders.
THE FINAL WORD Canberra's downhill slide in 2 weeks borders on the unbelievable, and despite their array of stars, their ability to hit back from 2 disastrous losses seems nigh on impossible.St George, conversely - despite what coach Smith says - have peaked perfectly.
St George 31, (Blake 2,Walford, Potter, Mackay tries; Herron 5 goals, Goldthorpe, field goal ) Canberra 10 , (Meninga, Furner tries;Furner, goal )