Historic Dragons' NRLW win over Warriors

Martin Gabor

St George Illawarra have kept their NRLW top-two hopes alive after coming from behind to defeat the Warriors 26-6 on a historic day for the women's competition at Mt Smart Stadium.

Previously, games had been played as curtain-raisers to NRL finals, but Sunday's clash across the ditch served as the first standalone fixture in NRLW history and showed a thirst for women's rugby league with a healthy crowd turning up.

"I don't think the girls got caught up in the moment," Warriors coach Luisa Avaiki said.

"Perhaps, they thought because they really wanted to perform for their families, it could have been added pressure they put on themselves."

The result means this year's competition mirrors the 2018 NRLW, with every match going the same way as it did last season, setting up a mouth-watering round of fixtures next week.

The Dragons looked the more threatening of the teams throughout the first half, but their willingness to move the ball proved their undoing as they came up with several errors at crucial times.

Skipper Kezie Apps was held up over the line and Rikeya Horne was denied by a forward pass two plays later, while a brilliant shift to the right went unrewarded when Shakiah Tungai lost the ball in a frenetic first half.

It was a different story for the Warriors, as fearless leader Georgia Hale made 40 tackles, Krystal Rota controlled the ruck and Charntay Poko kicked her second 40/30 in as many weeks but they failed to fire after halftime.

"I'm disappointed for our players and for ourselves because I know we're better than that. We spent a lot of time on 'D' in that second half and we weren't resilient enough to continue that throughout the whole of the second half," Avaiki said.

The only points in the first half came when Onjeurlina Leiataua barged over in the 15th minute, and the try-scorer showed she's no one-trick pony as she and fullback Apii Nicholls produced some outstanding defence to hold Jess Sergis up after the break.

The Dragons finally took advantage of their territorial dominance as Shaylee Bent stormed through on the right edge to get her side on the board.

With momentum on their side, the Red V landed a telling blow when Tiana Penitani finished off a length-of-the-field set of six to crash over in the left corner.

The result was sealed when Maitua Feterika latched onto a perfectly weighted Maddie Studdon grubber to make it three tries in 10 minutes, before Sergis and Botille Vette-Welsh raced in two more four-pointers to put the Dragons in the box seat for a grand-final berth.

"I'm just glad they got some reward for the hard work they've done behind the scenes," Dragons coach Daniel Lacey said.

"You've got to take your chances when they come but you've also got to be patient so it's a fine line. I thought we were just pushing it, but I also want them to play footy because, on the back of pushing it, you get results."