Crikey Sports introduces Pat Byrne, project manager and sports fan who, in conjunction with Crikey Sports, will be publishing a weekly column where he thinks outside the square in bringing you the game of the week as he sees it … in a box….

Pat Byrne, blogger and “Game-in-a-box” creator writes:

The game at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast was between the St George Illawarra Dragons, the premiers from last season and the Gold Coast Titans who finished 2010 in fourth position. And we can’t forget, not only are the Dragons premiers of the NRL, they are also the World Club Champions, having defeated Wigan just on two weeks ago in the UK.

So after all the rubbish headlines on gambling and boozy players, the NRL season finally kicked off this weekend!

The game couldn’t have started better for the Dragons with a try at 2.36 minutes started by Creagh, still hanging out on the left fringes, with a great pass to Hornby who rushed down the paddock before getting stopped.  Ultimately, Nightingale does a bit of a pivot and passes inside to Fien who jogs untouched over the line.  It was as if they were at the end of the season last year … nothing changed!

From there though, and for a good period, the Titans stayed slightly dominant. But they just couldn’t get over the top, they couldn’t capitalise. And so ultimately, the pendulum swung and the Dragons scored again with a lovely chip kick by Soward for the ever present Creagh just outside the left fringe (again), to catch the ball and score.

The only time the Titans really looked dangerous was when Prince had the ball within bomb, chip kick or grubber kick range.  And so it was in the 37th minute where he put up a big bomb and it bounced off the back of Nightingale into Michael’s hands and he was over.

So the Titans went into the break 6-12 down having only slightly dominated for long periods with only one score from their effort.  The Dragons weren’t toying with them, but they weren’t giving them anything either.

Shortly into the 2nd half and Soward had his second attempt at a field goal. It was really all too casual trundling into the Titan’s half, but the intent was there … we are going to make sure we keep ourselves out of danger.  So it was. The Titans would now have to score at least twice to get ahead.  It says a lot for the tactics and confidence of the Dragons.  They knew they were ahead and trusted their defence to keep them there.  One point more helped them say that.

Then came the big moment.

In many ways a turning point, as the Titans were going to find it difficult to get back from here against a quality defence like the Dragons and 13 points down.  The Dragons broke out from their quarter with a couple of long runs downfield. It finished on the right and went to Soward on the last tackle. Soward chipped toward the posts and Zimmerman, converging on the ball, ran into a slightly retreating Ref. Prince trips over Zimmerman as well.

Boyd who is chasing the kick, picks up the ball and scores near the posts. The video ref gave it. Bailey protested the ruling but there is no specific rule on the ref getting in the way in this manner. There is for the ball runner bumping into the ref or the ball hitting the ref.  But not for the ref impeding a tackler like this. Unfortunate, but to deny the Dragons would also have been an injustice.

But it put the Dragons 13 ahead and during a long and very dominant period they score again in the 63rd minute. Boyd’s second try. The Titans really have no way back from here. But their try in the 69th minute shows just how dangerous they can be with Prince calling the shots. For this try, from five metres out, Prince runs left but grubbers right into space and Harrison is over under the posts.  Simple but very effective.

The Titans go in for one more through a hard working Tagataese but I suspect the Dragons were tiring from the travel and jet lag. In the end, at 16 to 25, the Dragons didn’t seem to get into top gear and there was never any panic. Possession and tackles were around equal, slightly favouring the Titans. The difference was the “machine” like Dragons play. It didn’t seem to matter that the Titans went up a small gear. They went further down the field perhaps, but not over the line.  It’s as if as the Titans went up a gear, the Dragons slowly put the brakes on them and brought them to a halt, then hit the accelerator and bang …the Titans were pushed back over their line having to start the push again.

You can see by the tempo that the Dragons do tighten the screws like this as the game goes on. It is not as if the Dragons get better during the game.  It seems to me their intensity is pretty much the same all game, but the opposition slowly gets worn down and the Dragons get over the top, hence the long period of dominance in the second half.

A couple of observations. Soward’s kicking game outdid Prince’s. He put the ball down into the Titan’s corner just metres out from the post several times. Titans on the back foot and the Dragons slowly jogging to take up their chess position in the Titans quarter. And finally, how do other teams stop Creagh? They know exactly where he will be when (out just off the left fringe on attack and closer in on defence), but he still gets to play his own game. And this year he is likely to be better at it!  I suspect the only chance is to put another big bopper on him to simply hound him all game. Good luck though!!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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