A clutch conversion from Gareth Widdop has given St George Illawarra a gutsy 14-12 win over Penrith at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
Widdop’s goal, about 20 metres from the touch line, bisected the uprights after a 76th minute try to Josh Dugan locked up the scores.
Penrith looked headed for back-to-back victories after Josh Mansour broke an 8-all deadlock by finishing off a left-side swing seven minutes from fulltime.
However, in front of a crowd of 12,983, the Panthers inexplicably let Widdop’s ensuing kickoff find touch, resulting in Dugan’s match-turning try.
It was a dramatic finish to what was an ugly opening hour, where both sides failed to show any imagination with the ball and were also guilty of ill-discipline.
After the first 40 minutes alone, they combined for 29 penalties and errors.
Dragons centre Euan Aitken finally crossed for the first try of the match in the 53rd minute, steaming onto an inside ball from Josh McCrone and then pushing over Tyrone Peachey and Jamie Soward.
However Penrith responded quickly when Peta Hiku took a magic offload from rookie James Fisher-Harris, setting the stage for Dugan and Widdop’s heroics.
Widdop had opened the scoring with a penalty in the 11th minute, but for long periods from there neither team looked likely to threaten the scoreboard.
Penrith were flat in attack and devoid of options and, at one stage, hooker Peter Wallace fired a pass from dummy half and found the John Cleary Hill.
But the home side were just as unimaginative.
Gifted nine of ten sets late in the second half, the Dragons fluffed their lines on every occasion, ending their long stint in possession with a simple turnover.
Even when referee Ashley Klein awarded Jason Nightingale a runaway try from his one-on-one strip of Waqa Blake, the bunker ruled that Tim Lafai joined the tackle a split second before the turnover.
Panthers second-rower Bryce Cartwright failed to finish the match after dislocating his finger in the first half, while Dragons second-rower Joel Thompson was put on report for a high shot on Will Smith.
Dragons forward Mike Cooper could also have something to answer after being cited for a crusher tackle on Mansour late in the second half.