Almanac Rugby League – Dragons find some fire at last

I’m sure there are worse way to start a footy game. But after seeing the first few seconds of the Dragons clash against the Warriors at WIN Stadium, I’m hard pressed to come up with any.

Dragons captain Ben Hornby placed the ball on the kicking tee to start the game, walked back, ran up to the ball. And managed to send it sailing over the deadball line. How do you manage to miss half a footy field? He’s got a hell of a lot of grass in front of him in which to land the ball and yet he manages to miss all of it and whack it over the deadball line.

That’s not how I expected to start against a team like the Warriors, who are in the top four and who have struck a rich vein of form in recent weeks having won six of their last seven.

With the kick for touch from the halfway, the Warriors have their first tackle of the match just 8m from our line with the game not even a minute old. After fielding a kick on the last, Hornby is forced in-goal and so it’s a line dropout and another set of six.

Soon we end up with the ball for a set and get down their end, only to let them out with some less than fantastic defence. The set ends with my wife’s favourite player Jason Nightingale catching a bomb and getting tackled in-goal for another set. The Warriors quickly show they’re offload happy, flinging three of them on one tackle – the last of which goes Kristian Inu, who scores in the corner. James Maloney misses and the Warriors are up 4-0.

That brings us to halfway for the kick-off and, surely Hornby couldn’t kick it dead again. Oh wait, yes he can.  So they’re back down our end of the field when they should be bringing it out of their own end. After a few tackles, Kevin Locke puts on a series of  steps not seen since Saturday Night Fever to get himself over the line. Maloney converts for a 10-0 scoreline.

At this point I’m not very happy. The game is barely 10 minutes old and we’re already behind by two tries. Not a good position for a team whose attack at times resembles that of the kiddies who play during half-time. On the upside, the Warriors have had all the ball – and in good field position thanks to captain Hornby – so I’m hoping things will turn around soon. And they do six minute later thanks to the ref letting Beau Scott stand in a tackle for roughly three days before passing it to Mark Gasnier. Gaz then streaks past the Warriors defenders, most of who have their backs turned to him because they’re getting back the 10 for the next set, and crosses the line. The conversion by Jamie Soward brings the score to 10-6.

Soon Maloney manages to miss the field, kicking out on the full on the last tackle. That gives us possession on their 40m line and, a few tackles later, out comes the Dragons much-favoured left-side sweep play. The very same one that Phil Gould last week said was stale and ineffective. This ineffective play results in a four-pointer to Brett Morris, who salutes the crowd with a “rocking the baby” motion as a tribute to his new baby girl. Soward’s kick hits the flag on the left upright and the scores are tied 10-all, but it means that the damage Hornby’s massive kick-offs did have been wiped out.

Signs of frustration appear when Nathan Fien gets the Dragons marched 10m after he had a few choice words to the ref over a penalty. This gives the New Zealand side the field position to score, with Bill Topou crossing. The conversion makes it 16-10 and that’s what the score  remains until the half-time siren.

After admitting he didn’t have any answers, Wayne Bennett must have found a few for his half-time address because the Dragons who came out looked much sharper than any side wearing the Red V has for a few weeks. Six minutes in and a Trent Merrin offload sends Jamie Soward scooting off into space only to be brought down by Locke. A few tackles later and the ball heads left for Darius “I’m with You, Wayne” Boyd to grubber through the line and regather for the try. Soward, who has had his troubles with the boot in recent weeks, kicks it from the sideline to level the scores once again.

It’s Boyd again who races away down the sideline in a break that almost leads to a try there and then. Instead, we get a penalty for an offside player and, in Dragons tradition Soward slots the two points for an 18-16 scoreline. We go to our let edge again and a series of flowing passes that resembles the Dragons of last season leads to a try by Nightingale and another sideline conversion from Soward to make it 24-16.

While the Dragons are working well with the ball, they’re also doing a good job without it by pressuring the Warriors into errors and frustrating them a bit. In fact it’s not until the 69th minute that the Warriors score again through an unbelievably soft try to Feleti Mateo, who strolls into an enormous gap left by Gasnier who has inexplicably rushed 10m infield to tackle a player who didn’t get the ball.

Maloney’s conversion makes it 24-22 and I’m figuring here comes another loss. This is where the Warriors come back and manage to score again and win. Sure, it’s pessimistic but it’s been the pattern of the last few games.

But perhaps that pattern will be broken this afternoon. We have repeat sets down their end only to let them come back down the field due to a forward pass and second dig in a tackle – both from Dean Young. But we hold them out near our line and they grubber kick. Boyd, who has been showing a return to form, picks it up and runs 40m before passing to Matt Cooper, who runs another 45m before passing it to Morris who makes just 5m. We’ve just gone 90m in one tackle. I can’t remember the last time we did that.

What follows is a sinbin for a Warriors player and a penalty shot at goal for us. Soward eats up the clock with his attempt and, by the time he slots it, the game is over.

And we have won 26-22. We managed to beat a top four side in a streak of form and also managed to dig ourselves out of a hole. We also managed to show moments of the irresistible attack that has deserted us for the last month or so.

It’s a win that improves our position on the ladder ahead of the finals. But, more importantly, it improves our confidence too. I’ll bet they sang the team song extra loud in the sheds after this one.

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