Ben Hunt has continued his purple patch of form with a superb individual performance to help his St George Illawarra Dragons defeat the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 20-6 to kick off Friday Night Footy from Nestrate Jubilee Oval.
It was a trying opening twenty minutes with St George suffocating Manly down their own end with Manly being their own worst enemy conceding three set restarts and two penalties continuously giving the Dragons a chance to attack and place pressure on an already weakened Manly. The night began on a sour note when Cody Ramsey fell awkwardly in a tackle and failed to return. But, following another cheap piggyback downfield, Ben Hunt took the footy to the line and stepped back past Christian Tuipulotu to get down low to burrow his way to the line for the first try and the early lead.
As the field position started to favour the Dragons, Manly was hanging on for dear life and it was a clever grubber from Talatau Amone and Hunt won the race to the footy and the Dragons extended their lead out to twelve points. Manly fans were having flashbacks to the Sharks game when Daly Cherry-Evans lost the ball in the in-goal and Jack Bird claimed a try, luckily for them, the video referee ruled DCE grounded the ball just in time and the Dragons held a 12-point advantage.
The last twenty minutes were a comedy of errors as Manly struggled the second they got into good ball territory with elementary mistakes from Josh Schuster halting any attacking momentum. The Dragons' forwards were rewarded with their strong runs and Manly's poor first-half discipline came to bite when Marty Taupau was pinned for the second time in as many minutes for stripping the ball. Lomax converted from point-blank range and St George led 14-0 at the change of ends.
The second 40 was a strong start from Manly when a cheap penalty went their way after Francis Molo was ruled out of play. Off the back of the 'out of play' penalty, their goal line defence fell apart at the seams and Josh Aloiai crashes underneath Francis Molo and Billy Burns to crash over and give Manly some hope in the second 40 and the margin was reduced to eight.
As Manly was warming into the contest, one thing became noticeably apparent, their obsession with going down the left-hand side. Although they were creating chances, nothing was eventuating for Manly and they were clearly missing the direction that Croker, Davey and Jurbo provide in the middle as DCE was unable to carry the Manly attack on his back as he has in the previous few weeks.
Ben Hunt was applying the blow-torch forcing four-line drop-outs and being instrumental in St George's play tonight which is good signs after last week's disaster in Gosford. It was an uneventful second forty in terms of attacking footy with defence really taking the centre stage in the wet and slippery conditions. St George ended this match with a lovely set play which saw Jack Bird provide a magic pass to Mathew Feagai to give the Dragons a 14-point victory.