Without their two marquee men, the Sea Eagles managed to outplay an equally depleted Dragons outfit on the Gold Coast.
It’s the barbecue that may have burnt St George Illawarra’s season after the Dragons’ finals hopes hit a snag with a costly second-half fadeout against the Sea Eagles.
With Matt Dufty, Tyrell Fuimaono and Kaide Ellis suspended, Paul Vaughan sacked, and Zac Lomax and Daniel Alvaro unavailable, this was a crucial game for a Red V side that would have fancied themselves against a team missing its three best players.
Instead, they dished out a performance that was as disappointing as their bubble breach to open the door for the chasing pack to put pressure on their place in the top eight.
“The thing that happened at Shellharbour is over and it’s been dealt with,” Dragons coach Anthony Griffin said.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of tackling it anymore. They’ve paid a price, and as a club, we’ve come together. Since we got up here on Wednesday, we had a really good week at training.”
They’ll survive the weekend, but they’ll be lucky to feature in September after they coughed up a 14-12 lead at the break to meekly surrender in the second half.
The Dragons’ discipline was awful in the first 10 minutes back from the sheds and things only got worse as their defence capitulated and their attack looked amateurish without Dufty floating around the back.
Things won’t get any easier with players set to be stood down over the next few weeks, but they have no one to blame but themselves after the most expensive mistake of the year.
Sea Eagles fans would have been in panic mode when the team sheet dropped sans Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers, but it mattered little as some stars of the future and a wily veteran combined to secure two vital competition points.
With roughly $3 million worth of talent playing the role of ball boys on the Gold Coast, Kieran Foran wound back the clock with his finest match in maroon since he rejoined the club.
His double pump to set up Brad Parker was a thing of beauty, and he showed his hamstrings still have some life in them after he backed up Josh Schuster to spark their second-half revival.
Foran will be at the club next season, and the future looks bright after Schuster’s stunning return from a calf injury saw him set up two tries and break the line twice as he toyed with the defence on both sides of the field.
He started the night in the halves on the right but moved to the left back row position and looked at ease in both roles, mesmerising the Dragons with his no-look passes and his attack-straightening runs.
His partnership with Haumole Olakau’atu on the right was unstoppable in the first half, with the boom back-rower setting up a try and scoring one of his own to continue his meteoric rise in 2021.
“I thought we played some pretty good football throughout,” Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler said.
“After the week that everyone has had, to come here and get the win was really important.
“I thought a couple of young players that we have coming through stepped up and played really well. It’s a good reward for them because they’ve worked really hard.
“I thought the back-rower Haumole was really strong, and the last two weeks he’s been really good.”
There was one major setback for the Sea Eagles on an otherwise brilliant night, with recruit Karl Lawton rushed to hospital at halftime with severe pain in his lower back.
However, his coach says it’s just a cork in his back.
“We’ll get the necessary scans done and we’ll be right to go,” Hasler said.
Aftermath of Covid-19 breach says it all