Ghosts of St George Illawarra Dragons past haunt Paul McGregor as Benji Marshall, Luciano Leilua star for Wests Tigers

Even if they don’t play another game this year as Australia goes into lockdown to halt the COVID-19 spread, Paul McGregor’s detractors will use this performance against him. He needs a fast start and this looked one of the most winnable games on paper in a horror opening couple of months. They didn’t look like they knew how to win it.

The Dragons had enough chances to win two games of football – the Tigers also blew gilt-edged opportunities – and twice inside the last seven minutes butchered the final pass on potential match-winning plays.

Paul Vaughan couldn’t stoop low enough to catch a pass after a break from an otherwise underwhelming Ben Hunt with the line gaping and Tyson Frizell’s bust went amiss with Brayden Wiliame in support.

Instead, Marshall kicked the Dragons back to the bad old days of 2019. Leilua, looking ominous with brother Joey on the Tigers’ right edge, more than matched Tyson Frizell, the man the Dragons are so desperate to keep, in their individual duel.

And inevitably David Nofoaluma put the icing on the cake with a try inside the last minute as Michael Maguire’s side showed why they will more than be competitive again – even without the injured Luke Brooks.

The Dragons had six months to stew on last year’s abysmal campaign – and needed only 70 seconds and one touch of the ball to register first points this season.

Mikaele Ravalawa wasn’t even guaranteed a start in their round one team a few weeks ago. On his first possession, he caught a swirling Marshall bomb, raced downfield and kicked a ball which screwed uncontrollably right. He was eventually awarded a penalty try when Corey Thompson was ruled to have impeded the Fijian as he tried to ground the ball. He left the field only a few minutes later with a thigh complaint and didn’t return.

The Dragons could have easily doubled – maybe tripled – their lead inside the first 10 minutes, but they found themselves trailing shortly after when Marshall kicked deftly for Nofoaluma and then potted the conversion and later penalty goal.

Josh Reynolds got the nod in the halves for the injured Brooks (calf) and after enduring a summer of twists and turns thanks to a deceitful former partner, the hits just kept on coming. This time, they weren’t hidden. Tariq Sims monstered the former Bulldog not once, twice, but three times before the break.

But the biggest whack for the Tigers when the usually dependable Thompson fumbled the ball coming out of his own end to allow opposite Zac Lomax the easiest try he’ll score all year.

The Dragons’ lead didn’t last long after the break, Marshall scurrying over after an unbalanced Sims dropped Tyrell Fuimaono’s pass over the line before the Kiwi wizard turned provider for Luciano Leilua.

His old mate Lomax is learning the nuances of fullback play, his harshest lesson coming when he tried to shepherd a kick over the dead ball line only for Leilua to sneak under his guard.

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