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Match Report - Round 22 2002

Dragons' fire fizzles as late try breaks hearts
By Michael Cowley - www.smh.com.au,12 Aug '02

There was a lot of pressure on St George Illawarra at Aussie Stadium yesterday. Not only from themselves, their club and their supporters as they battle for a spot in the top eight, but also from the fans of teams like Brisbane, the Bulldogs, Souths and even Newcastle.

The Dragons were, after all, playing a team which has been reborn as everyone's most hated - Manly.

So while the supporters of the Broncos, the Bulldogs and the Rabbitohs were doing it tough after early weekend losses, and even the fans of the Knights were watching their side being battered across the other side of town, there was still optimism that the Monday morning office chat could still centre around the victory by everyone else's second team - the one playing against Manly.

Perhaps supporters of those aforementioned clubs would be advised to take a sickie today, because "both" your teams suffered losses at the weekend.

Manly produced what coach Peter Sharp declared to be their best win of the season in downing the Dragons 20-18, courtesy of a Steve Menzies converted try less than two minutes from full-time.

The win lifts the Eagles back into the top eight and leaves the Dragons three points adrift of a finals position, with rounds rapidly running out.

"Today was a day where we thought we could control our own destiny with the way the result went," Dragons coach Andrew Farrar said. "Now we've probably got to rely on other things outside our control. We were looking for a result today, our way, then a result next week, then the bye, and those six points could have been very valuable in controlling our destiny. But it didn't go our way.

"We weren't that bad today, the opposition were pretty good. They played with great desperation and that should be said. They took their opportunities, we didn't make the best of ours.

"Unfortunately it comes down to the mistake off the kick-off reception. That was the play of the day."

That "mistake" came with just seven minutes to play. The Dragons were ahead 18-14 and looking good for the win. But from the kick-off the ball bounced around with seemingly nobody wanting to touch it. Then, as it was headed over the dead-ball line, winger Matt Cooper tried to bat it into the field of play to prop Jason Ryles, whose only play on the ball was to bundle it dead.

From the drop-out, the Eagles poured on the pressure. They had four repeat sets of six before a clever banana kick from half Jason Ferris was snatched out of the air by Menzies, who appeared to plant the ball next to the upright. The video referee was called for and those three letters appeared on the big screen - TRY. Luke Williamson converted to give the Eagles the game.

"I couldn't watch the final try decision," Sharp said. "It was pretty stressful for me. That was probably our best win [of the season]. We were under a lot of pressure for a long time. We haven't done that for a couple of years and that's a very encouraging sign for this footy club."

Of the finals, Sharp said: "We're still in the mix. And that's the important thing for us. We've got a hard road ahead, as everyone has, but we seriously think we're a chance."

A converted try after just four minutes to Mark Riddell gave the Dragons the perfect start but the Eagles answered through Ferris soon after and, just two minutes out from the break, they gave themselves a 14-8 half-time advantage when fullback Brendon Reeves scored.

Some individual brilliance from Saints five-eighth Trent Barrett six minutes into the second half, when he stepped through the line and sprinted 40m to score, cut the margin to just two, 14-12, and within another 10 minutes the scores were locked at 14-14 through a Riddell penalty goal. He added another one from directly in front 13 minutes from time, and St George Illawarra were back in front, 16-14.

When the Dragons hooker kicked yet another penalty, it gave his side a four-point buffer.

Then came the kick-off from hell for the Dragons.

As for injuries, Farrar said: "Just a few broken hearts among the coaching staff." Perhaps that could be the sickie excuse for today for those other fans.
Eagles: 20
Tries: Ferris, Reeves, Menzies. Goals: Williamson 4

Dragons: 18
Tries: Riddell, Barrett. Goals: Riddell 4, Kent 1

Referee: Tim Mander