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Griffin hails 'learned lessons' after Dragons hunt down Tigers for third win in a row

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1st May, 2022
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St George Illawarra Dragons “showed a heap of character” to snare a third win on the trot, overcoming 12-6 Wests Tigers in a low-scoring affair in Wollongong.

Second half tries from Ben Hunt and Jayden Sullivan were enough to lift Anthony Griffin’s men above the Tigers in a game in which both sides struggled to make much happen with ball in hand.

“I’m really proud today,” said Griffin. “It’s a short turnaround and hard to win after ANZAC Day. Someone just told me it’s only the second time in 10 years that we’ve been able to win.

“It takes a lot physically and emotionally out of you, so to be able to withstand that showed a heap of character. It took 75 minutes to get scored against and that’s what won us the game.”

This is now three wins in a row, on the back of a series of defeats to Cronulla, Parramatta and South Sydney where the Dragons were markedly off the pace.

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“We’ve hit a bit of form and emotionally, we learned a lot of lessons out of those three weeks where we weren’t good,” said Griffin. “If we hadn’t have learned those lessons and corrected them, we’d still be going.”

The biggest turnaround has been in the defence: after conceded 98 points in those three losses, they have conceded 36 across the three victories.

“It’s a credit to them, the way they’ve been able to defend the last couple of weeks,” said the coach.

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“We learnt some really hard lessons against Parramatta and Cronulla and those sides.

“Defence is always an attitude and it’s a connection. They key showing up for each other tonight. It’s just an attitude that we’ve been able to build.”

After two recent one-point wins, the Tigers looked like they had turned a corner for their 2022 season but this performance was levels down on the last two weeks: though there was no faulting their effort and commitment, they created far too few chances.

Wests enjoyed much of the ball and field position, but never looked like making it count. Luke Brooks was the only man to cross for the Tigers, who left it to the latter stages to show real attacking intent.

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“We won a lot of areas in stats but little moments hurt us,” said coach Michael Maguire. “It was a tight game and we weren’t able to ice a few of those tries that were available to us.

“Credit to the opposition, they were able to spoil around the ruck at times and the momentum of your ruck plays a big part in being able to put points on.

“I’m really disappointed because it was a fair game of footy, end-to-end and it was tight. It can come down to one play, one little moment, and they were able to capitalise on that.”

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This was the platonic ideal of Sunday arvo footy. The Wollongong hill was sold out, the famed wind sock pointing directly downwards and, on the park, the players served up as good an example of old school grind as could have been asked for.

There were few scoring chances, but no lack of effort as the teams swapped kick for kick, yards for yards. It was nip and tuck: by the time the half hour mark ticked around, there had been over 250 tackles and only seven of them within either team’s 20m area.

The grind wouldn’t abate. Even with Kelma Tuilagi thought that he had scored, a small knock-on was found in the grounding and it was taken back. Zac Lomax was adjudged to have tackled Tuilagi in the air and the Tigers were forced to settle for two points from the penalty goal.

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The Tigers had seemed more threatening, but as half time rolled into view, neither time was looking particularly like troubling the scorers. There were seven errors in ten minutes as both times struggled with intensity.

Wests wrested the advantage in the closing stages of the first half, and twice turned down the chance for easy penalty goals in search of a try. Inevitably, they coughed up possession.  

The second half started in the same vein. The Tigers were gaining metres without ever looking like scoring, while the Dragons were still crippled by errors in attack.

When St George Illawarra managed to cut out their mistakes, they came away with points. The first try took nearly an hour to arrive, and when it did, it was as much through defensive error as attacking brilliance.

Oliver Gildart was at fault, shooting the line to meet Ben Hunt but failing to stopping. The halfback snuck in behind and got the Dragons on the board.

With a lead on the scoreboard, the Dragons upped their intensity in defence. They turned the Tigers away three times in a row, with the trio of Hastings, Brooks and now Jock Madden unable to pick the lock.

The stage was set. After such a strong showing in their own end, St George Illawarra found their opponents less capable. Jayden Sullivan, the new man from the bench, caught Joe Ofahengaue napping on the tryline and bolted to increase the lead.

With just five to play, the Tigers found their straps. Luke Brooks found space on the back of fast ball movement and isolated Zac Lomax in defence to get their first try.

Hastings missed the kick to leave Wests a converted try short with the clock running out – a few frantic moments followed, but St George Illawarra hung on.

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