Dragons shirk off-season pressure to beat Titans
Coach Anthony Griffin insists there was no extra pressure on St George Illawarra ahead of their first game of the year despite the highly-publicised off-season that preceded the 32-18 defeat of Gold Coast.
Criminal charges for two Dragons players, debate about Griffin's future, a player boycott of the club's awards night and an early-morning confrontation between teammates after the Charity Shield loss in Mudgee combined for a summer in the headlines.
In the pre-season, bookmakers tipped the Dragons as the third-likeliest candidates for the wooden spoon, and after they bled two soft tries to trail 12-2 at the 20-minute mark on Sunday, the grim forecast might have felt reasonable.
But Tyrell Sloan, who requested a release during the off-season before recanting, turned the Dragons' fortunes around.
The young fullback caught David Fifita napping at marker and tore through the middle of Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on a line break that set Jacob Liddle up for a try and sparked a Dragons skirmish.
St George Illawarra scored three tries in the eight minutes before half-time and never looked like surrendering their advantage.
Griffin was not surprised his side had defied the headlines with its performance.
"Except for one day in Mudgee, we had a really good off-season," Griffin said.
"We're really confident in where we're going as a group. You could tell yesterday at training, guys were really looking forward to getting the season started.
"It was important for us to have a really strong, solid performance. I thought we did that for 50 minutes; we can build off that now."
The only time the Titans touched the ball between Sloan's line-break and the halftime hooter, Kieran Foran fielded a kick and was immediately dragged back in goal.
The Dragons controlled the weight of possession after the break as well, thanks largely to Ben Hunt's kicking game and Gold Coast's errors.
After Gold Coast failed to find the sideline from a kick for touch, Sloan caught a short ball from Ben Hunt and ran over for a simple try early in the second half.
The Titans' ill-discipline gave new halves combination Tanah Boyd and Kieran Foran little hope of staging a fightback.
In the second half, the Titans completed at 69 per cent and had only 39 per cent of the ball.
"We just couldn't control them through the middle and then they got control of the game and we couldn't get it back," said Titans coach Justin Holbrook.
Prized recruit Sam Verrills left the field injured in the 50th minute after a knock to the shoulder but Holbrook believes he will be fit for round three.
"He's got a burner in his shoulder and he battled on for a fair while there," Holbrook said of his hooker.
"He'll be okay."
When fan favourite Blake Lawrie crashed over for the second try of his 104-game career, the Dragons were home.
Debutant Toby Couchman suffered a head knock in the second half and failed to finish the match in the only sour note for St George Illawarra.