St George Illawarra Dragons came into this game in eighth place on the NRL ladder, but their hopes of playing finals football suffered a significant blow against bottom-placed Newcastle Knights, who came into the game on the back of eight successive losses, with a 21-14 defeat at McDonald Jones Stadium.
The Knights came into the game with Jacob Saifiti replacing Mickey Paea on the bench while the Dragons retained the 17 squad members announced last Tuesday.
Victory for the Knights was clinched when Trent Hodkinson landed a 79th-minute field goal to send the home supporters home happy, having watched only their third victory of the season.
The Knights were the first to score when Brock Lamb touched down his own grubber and Hodkinson converted for a 6-0 lead after six minutes.
Lamb’s cross-field bomb was then caught by Shaun Kenny-Dowall who touched down for his second try in two games after his move from Sydney Roosters.
Jason Nightingale just failed to score as Nathan Ross bundled him into touch, but the Dragons eventually did reply when Paul Vaughan barged his way over, with Gareth Widdop converting.
The Dragons had a try by Tim Lafai disallowed by the Bunker for a prior knock-on by Nightingale and then Nene Macdonald’s 95-metre solo try was also ruled out by the Bunker because Tyson Frizell had impeded one of the Newcastle chasers.
The Dragons’ woes continued when Trent Hodkinson kicked a penalty goal to give the Knights a 14-6 lead.
But the Dragons replied just before the interval to cut the gap to two points with a forceful try by Tariq Sims.
In the second half a Gareth Widdop penalty goal levelled the scores with 20 minutes to play.
At this point it looked as though either team could win, but it was the Knights who grabbed the inititiative when Josh King offloaded for Jacob Saifiti to snap up the loose ball to touch down with eight minutes to go, before Hodkinson’s late field-goal confirmed the Knights’ victory.
Knights 21 (Brock Lamb, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jacob Saifiti tries; Trent Hodkinson 4 goals; Trent Hodkinson field goal) def. Dragons 14 (Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims tries; Gareth Widdop 3 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Half-time: 14-12. Crowd: 15,031
Knights: 1 Nathan Ross, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Dane Gagai, 4 Peter Mata’utia, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Brock Lamb, 7 Trent Hodkinson, 8 Daniel Saifiti, 9 Jamie Buhrer (c), 10 Josh King, 11 Sione Mata’utia (c), 12 Joe Wardle, 13 Mitchell Barnett; Interchange: 14 Danny Levi, 15 Luke Yates, 16 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 21 Jacob Saifiti
Tries: Smith, Kenny-Dowall, Saifiti; Goals: Hodkinson 4; Field Goal: Hodkinson
Dragons: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Josh Dugan, 4 Timoteo Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Josh McCrone, 8 Leeson Ah Mau, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Joel Thompson, 13 Jack de Belin; Interchange: 14 Tariq Sims, 15 Jacob Host, 16 Russell Packer, 17 Kurt Mann.
Tries: Vaughan, Sims; Goals: Widdop 3
Monday’s edition of League Express, available in the shops or online, will feature full coverage of all the weekend’s NRL matches.