MATCH REPORT: Dragons gunned down by Cowboys

Dragons winger Daniel Vidot scores during St George Illawarra’s 32-22 loss to the North Queensland Cowboys at WIN Stadium last night. Tries to Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen sealed the Dragons’ slim top-eight finals fate. Picture: GETTY IMAGESThe curtain is yet to be drawn on their season, but it appears the fall from grace is now complete.

Last night, North Queensland delivered the knockout blow on St George Illawarra’s campaign with a 32-22 victory at WIN Stadium, erasing the need for any mathematical ifs or buts about the Dragons’ finals prospects

Premiers in 2010 and a major contender last season, St George Illawarra were ranked among the heavyweights in the preseason polls.

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But they failed to strike a consistent winning formula and will now miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

The old firm of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen eventually proved the difference in a physical and spiteful encounter, with both crossing for second half tries.

“It’s a vital win. A little bit scrappy but it’s good to get the result,” Cowboys coach Neil Henry said.

“We let them in for a couple of tries, which is a bit disappointing, but it’s a tough place to play.”

A big talking point of the match was an all-in brawl in the 54th minute. The incident erupted after James Tamou gave Matt Cooper a facial during a tackle. The Dragons were awarded a penalty, while Daniel Vidot and Ricky Thorby were sin-binned.

“There was an overreaction from the Dragons … I thought we handled that OK,” Henry said.

The win boosts the Cowboys to fifth overall on the NRL ladder, two points behind Manly but with a much better points differential (+130)

Despite the loss, Dragons coach Steve Price was finally given something to smile about. With the odds stacked against them, the Dragons were able to post one of their better performances of the year. Again, it was their failure to ask enough questions of the opposition defence which cost them.

“Too many errors at crucial times and too many penalties at crucial times – it was the story of our season,” Price said.

“We had a lot of opportunities to win the game and they were there to be beaten.”

The Cowboys were at their menacing best early on, with wrecking balls James Tamou and Matt Scott making easy yardage down the middle of the Dragons defence.

Three consecutive sets inside the Dragons’ 20 metre zone created ominous signs for the 9245 largely pro-St George Illawarra fans who turned out at WIN Stadium. Inevitably, it was winger Ashley Graham who pounced six minutes in, before another to Kayne Linnett eight minutes later.

By contrast, the Dragons were stale early on. When they weren’t copping a battering from the Cowboys attack, they were struggling to formulate their own.

But the red and whites mounted a comeback midway through the first half to reduce the Cowboys’ advantage to 18-16 at the break.

First, Ben Creagh burrowed his way through the defence in the 26th minute to get the Dragons on the board, before further tries to Mitch Rein and Vidot.

A crucial Creagh knock-on invited the Cowboys back into the contest, with Linnett crossing for his second the following play.

In the second stanza, the Cowboys stormed home from a 22-18 deficit.

Dragons prop Dan Hunt provided his side a solid foundation to work with following his try off the back of a Matthew Scott penalty for late contact on Jamie Soward. But Thurston and Bowen hit back to with individual tries to put the game beyond doubt.

Last night’s result means the battle for two remaining NRL playoff spots is essentially down to three, with Brisbane, Wests Tigers and Canberra locked on 26 points. Gold Coast and Newcastle are outsiders on 24 points, while the Dragons languish on 22 points.

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