St George Illawarra 28 Roosters 24
The Dragons celebrate after Ben Creagh scored the winning try with 45 seconds remaining. Photo: Getty Images
A MATCH to remember, an occasion to savour, and a fitting captain's knock. If you could have written a script for yesterday's Anzac Day thriller (the St George Illawarra victory version at least), it would have been fairly close to the dramatic events at Allianz Stadium.
''It was a classic game of footy on Anzac Day,'' Dragons coach Steve Price said. ''It typifies what the Anzac spirit's all about, not giving up for your mate. It's a credit to the guys in the dressing room.
Tough contest ... Jared Waerea-Hargreaves of the Roosters fends off Matt Cooper of the Dragons. Photo: Getty Images
''The most pleasing thing was that they walked off that field and they gave it their all. It's a memory our captain Ben Hornby can live with for the rest of his life.''
Hornby, who played his record-breaking 257th match, was in ''shock'' at the turn of events. ''We just dug in there and dug in there and kept plugging away, and the game turned in the last few minutes,'' he said. ''That shows what can happen when you never give up.''
After the Dragons had scored two tries in the final four minutes to steal victory from the Roosters, who had led by eight points, it was something of a miracle they even bothered to take the conversion for Ben Creagh's match-winning try, such were the frenzied celebrations.
Anzac Rugby League - Roosters v Dragons 2012
Rugby League and the Anzac spirit go hand in hand in this yearly match up between the Sydney Roosters and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Allianz Stadium in Sydney. Can the Dragons make it 5 Anzac wins in a row or will the Roosters win their first since 2007? All pictures by Steve Christo. Selected images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH. Photo: Steve Christo
But five-eighth Jamie Soward handed the ball to Hornby, who broke Norm Provan's St George record for appearances yesterday, and the captain kicked the final goal.
''It was a fitting end for a great day for me,'' Hornby said. ''I don't know if it could have gone any better.''
The final minutes were remarkable. Dragons fans had been walking out with five minutes to go, such was the Roosters' apparent comfort. But after Braith Anasta's penalty goal with five minutes remaining, which gave the Roosters a 24-16 lead, the Dragons took a short kick-off, which was fielded by Jason Nightingale, who sent centre Matt Prior away for a try.
Some supporters, walking towards the exits, turned back to their seats, and they would have been thankful; Creagh scored off prop Michael Weyman's offload and the place erupted.
The build-up and the emotion of the occasion is always memorable, but the potential for the contest wasn't great. The Dragons have been accused of being boring this season while the Roosters have been accused of being poor.
But this became a marvellous match. The Roosters threw everything at the Dragons in the first half but the home side's defence remained solid. The Roosters had been torn open by Mitch Rein's incisive run that set up Creagh's opening try, but they too were stout throughout.
The remaining three tries of the half, to Aiden Guerra, Matt Cooper and Anthony Minichiello, all came from high kicks, yet that did not dilute the entertainment value.
The last one, where Minichiello timed a run from a Mitchell Pearce kick perfectly to out-jump Dragons fullback Brett Morris, continued a rather nice subplot. Minichiello, the incumbent NSW fullback, was facing one of the heirs apparent in Morris. The Dragons player had held Minichiello up superbly in the opening minutes of the encounter, but the Rooster got one over Morris here.
And Pearce? Just a few days ago he was off-form and lacking in confidence, now he has produced two superb performances in a row. Three of the Roosters' four tries came from his boot - he helped himself to the third as Morris gambled that the ball would bobble dead.
Even when Pearce didn't mean to, he came up with a key play - Jake Friend's ball took a detour via Pearce's mistimed touch and captain Anasta scored what had appeared to be the clincher.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 28 (B Creagh 2 M Cooper M Prior M Weyman tries J Soward 3 B Hornby goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 24 (B Anasta A Guerra A Minichiello M Pearce tries B Anasta 4 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 40,164.