St George Illawarra have recovered from a Ben Hunt horror show to jump into the NRL top four with a 20-10 win over Wests Tigers.
In a night of contrasting fortunes for the Dragons, Hunt turned in a shocker before Paul McGregor’s side released the pressure valve with an ugly yet tense Leichhardt Oval win.
After losing five of their previous six, the Dragons remarkably re-entered the top four after Penrith lost earlier on Saturday.
Even with the motivation of the game possibly marking Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall’s last at the Tigers’ spiritual home, they couldn’t get it done in front of a fervent crowd of 18,837.
It leaves Ivan Cleary’s side four points outside the eight with two games remaining, effectively killing their season.
With playmaking partner Gareth Widdop (shoulder) out until the finals, the pressure was on Hunt to steady the ship after a poor post-Origin period.
The Queensland and Australian representative had old wounds prised open when he spilled the ball from the kick-off for the second-half.
The incident was shades of his infamous drop in the 2015 grand final and he had salt rubbed into his wounds when he missed an inside shoulder tackle for Chris Lawrence’s try which made it 6-4 the next set.
After a first-half in which he also kicked out on the full and dropped the ball over the line, he was sin-binned in the 53rd minute, allowing Esan Marsters to even the scores.
Yet the Tigers’ couldn’t capitalise in the 10 minutes Hunt was off, with the Dragons re-gaining the lead through a Lafai penalty.
And when Robbie Farah copped a very dubious knock-on call 10 metres from his own line, St George pushed the lead out to eight with Luciano Leilua crashing over.
Stand-in captain Tyson Frizell put the icing on the cake when he barged across the line with four minutes remaining before Kevin Naiqama grabbed a consolation Tigers try in the dying moments.
The Tigers’ first half was one of missed chances as they dropped the ball five times inside the Dragons’ red zone.
The vicitors were just as ill-disciplined – giving away six penalties in 25 minutes.
They did finally strike first when Leilua – who was a standout – ran it down the short side and Jordan Pereira finished off the movement.