A Darren Nicholls-led St George Illawarra Dragons side has beaten the North Sydney Bears 22-4 in Round 3 of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW at Ron Costello Oval, Shellharbour.
Nicholls’ Dragons were too sharp and too committed for the Bears who, despite some stinging defence and glimpses of potential, couldn't crack their opponent’s defence for almost 70 minutes.
St George Illawarra’s No.7, alongside halves partner Adam Clune, expertly controlled proceedings for most of the match, keeping the Bears on the back foot with a smart kicking game and clever tactics.
The match’s opening exchanges showed promising signs for the Bears, but the Dragons, who crossed first in the 10th minute, ultimately led from start to finish.
It was hard-charging front-rower Josh Kerr who opened proceedings, crashing over from metres out following a zig-zagging run and a pass from winger Jordan Pereira. Fullback Jai Field’s conversion made it 6-0.
The Bears thought they had entered the scorebook eight minutes later with a right-to-left shift on the Dragons’ line, but the play that ultimately saw Mawene Hiroti cross the line was deemed illegal.
Just seconds later Field and the Dragons had a chance of their own, with the light-footed fullback stepping his way into open space before a draw-and-pass effort, after some sublime lead-up play, floated forward and to the turf.
For most of the first half, it was Nicholls’ kicking game that proved the difference.
His kick saw the Dragons have possession on the North Sydney line in the 30th minute – and a penalty from 11 metres, tapped quickly by Jacob Host, caught the Bears off guard, the second-rower crashing over for an all-too-easy four-pointer. Field’s second conversion took the score to 12-0.
The Bears compounded that error immediately after, kicking the ball out on the full from the restart. A brilliant short over-the-top pass by Dragons five-eighth Clune set up the home side’s third of the half, a looping ball finding an unmarked Jordan Pereira to crash over on the western touchline. A miraculous into-the-wind conversion – one of the most unlikely fans will ever see – from Field took the lead to 18, one the Dragons took into the break.
After conceding 18 points in the first half, the Bears started the second half in the worst possible fashion – conceding four back-to-back penalties including one on the first play of the half, before the Dragons struck once again, some slick hands finding an unmarked John Tohi to crash over from close range.
The Dragons’ defence finally cracked in the 69th minute when Field failed to clean up a short kick and North Sydney winger Amanaki Veamatahau, who was close to scoring a try in the opening minutes of the game, swooped on the loose ball from a metre out.
For the home side, regular contributors Field and Clune were strong in support of Nicholls, alongside powerful performances from their forwards including Host and Kerr.
The Bears never stopped trying, as some stinging efforts in the final minutes showed, with five-eighth Connor Tracey, prop Jason Clark and Kyle Turner some of their most involved.
Next week the Dragons host Newcastle at WIN Stadium, while the Bears have the bye.
St George Illawarra Dragons 22 (Josh Kerr, Jacob Host, Jordan Pereira, John Tohi tries; Jai Field 3 goals) def North Sydney Bears 4 (Amanaki Veamatahau try)