The resurgence of St George Illawarra under the coaching of Paul McGregor has continued with the Dragons seeing off table-topping Brisbane 12-10 at Kogarah Oval on Friday night.
Touted as wooden spoon contenders after opening the season with back-to-back defeats, McGregor’s side, possessing the best defence in the NRL, held off a furious late flurry of attacking raids from the visitors.
The Broncos were reduced to 15 men after skipper Justin Hodges was forced out with a recurrence of his hamstring injury before halftime.
Alex Glenn then sustained a serious facial injury midway through the second period but despite trailing 6-4 at the break, the Broncos took the lead through Sam Thaiday’s converted try in the 55th minute.
But the Dragons clinched the win when English front-rower Mike Cooper powered over and his fellow countryman Gareth Widdop added the decisive extra two points.
Daniel Vidot opened the scoring in the 17th minute following a strong spell from Brisbane, but they let the Dragons immediately back into the game when a huge hit from Will Matthews dislodged the ball from Thaiday.
Widdop looked set to score only to be impeded by Hodges as he chased his grubber kick, but winger Eto Nabuli was alert enough to take advantage of Vidot’s dithering to get his hand to the ball.
The Broncos, inspired by the outstanding Andrew McCullough, had the chance to win the game when Leeson Ah Mau turned the ball over deep in his own half.
However, when the pressure was on to win the game, Ben Hunt couldn’t repeat his exploits against the Sydney Roosters last week and failed to get the ball down in the left corner with the line at his mercy.
Both McGregor and Broncos coach Wayne Bennett admitted the game wasn’t one for the purists but the Dragons’ mentor said he was proud of the way his side played.
“Considering we didn’t really touch the ball in their half for the first 15 minutes of the second half, it showed some real character,” McGregor said.
“Benji (Marshall) got a poke in the eye and had split vision after about 20 minutes and couldn’t see.
“We had a lot of possession on us from them but we managed to stay firm and really, from our first possession, we scored the try from Mike Cooper.
“But we come up with a lot of errors but we can learn from tonight and I am happy with the way we turned up for one another tonight.”
Despite his side’s strong start to the season, Bennett said the Broncos were a long way from being a premiership-winning side and that showed in their performance on occasions.
“I thought both teams were a bit flat – it wasn’t entertainment personified,” Bennett said.
“Both teams gave their best but we fell two points short. We both came off big games from last week.”
Hodges said he felt a twinge in his hamstring and, although the injury was not serious, he felt it would worsen if he continued to play on.
“It got a bit sore and, with past history, had I continued to push it, it would have went,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of pulling up and trying again for next week.”
Bennett also revealed Glenn has a fractured eye socket and a broken nose after being caught by the arm of Dylan Farrell, who was placed on report.