IF St George Illawarra produce the attitude and aggression that they produced last night, they won’t need Tim Moltzen. And who knows, they might not need Wayne Bennett, or Darius Boyd, or their other notable losses of the summer. The club that Bennett built is still showing some fight even with the master coach in a coaching box far, far away.
Steal City? That might be Newcastle under Bennett, but Dragons territory is still for a while Steel City. Whether they can produce the consistency that Bennett demanded is still up for debate, but the Dragons are still capable of strangling a good side. Or what we thought was a good side; as the Dragons lifted, the Tigers wilted up the middle.
‘‘It was just all about attitude, and coming out and playing Dragons footy,’’ Dragons coach Steve Price said.
Notice he said Dragons footy, not Bennett footy; even though they are one and the same when it comes to this club, you can still have one without the other.
On this night all the Dragons losses were forgotten, completely dwarfed by the Tigers’ own frailties. Without second-rower Gareth Ellis, who had succumbed to his quad cork, the Tigers were awful defensively. Many people wrote off the Dragons before the start of the season, but the Tigers will lose a few fans after last night.
They were beaten by a clearly better side. Whether the Dragons rose to the occasion because of motivation over Moltzen was unlikely. Moltzen wanted to prove a point in the Dragons’ backyard, but in the end it was made by the team he snubbed.
The holes the Dragons ripped into the Tigers up the middle were quite remarkable; if the Tigers showed as much endeavour in their middle defence as they did getting involved in minor scuffles, they might have fared better.
When footballers use the word ‘‘soft’’, as Tigers skipper Robbie Farah did in describing his side’s defence, it is clear they are bitterly disappointed. Soft is a four-letter word to any NRL player. But there’s no doubt they were.
The Tigers were occasionally spirited. There is clearly a burgeoning rivalry which has developed between the two sides, but in the end, the Moltzen affair fizzled like a wet firework, all fear and loathing prior to kick-off but business as usual after it. The fire came from elsewhere; Tigers stars Robbie Farah and Adam Blair produced dangerous tackles on Ben Hornby and Jason Nightingale respectively, while Dragons Jeremy Latimore and Trent Merrin carried out their own heavy hitting on Benji Marshall on Beau Ryan.
How only Adam Blair was placed on report will now be fodder for many over the coming days, including the referees bosses; Farah’s lifting tackle and head-shots from Latimore and Merrin appeared to be more than penalty-sufficient.
The Blair penalty, though, was still costly. Mitch Rein dummied through some flimsy defense a minute later, and Brett Morris only had to run with gusto to poke his way through Liam Fulton and Aaron Woods five minutes later; he offloaded to the returning front-rower Dan Hunt, who scored. The Tigers’ responded but their errors had been exposed; with three minutes left in the first half, Nathan Fien and Ben Hornby scored, again through the guts, and the Tigers had fallen apart.
The Dragons had some wonderful performers; front-rower Michael Weyman was immense up the middle, Morris hardly missed a beat at fullback, while captain and halfback Ben Hornby certainly outpointed and outplayed Moltzen.
So the question of whether Moltzen would have made any difference on this night was forgotten. The Dragons have complained about the long-term impact, but on this occasion the team was motivated enough, and smart enough to expose the weaknesses in their opponents.
The fans came to boo Moltzen. But by the final whistle, the bitterness had subsided and they stood to applaud a side which has rolled with the punches.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 36 (B Creagh N Fien B Hornby D Hunt M Rein D Vidot tries J Soward 6 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 12 (J Reddy B Ryan tries B Marshall 2 goals) at WIN Jubilee Oval. Referee: Tony Archer, Phil Haines. Crowd: 18,726.