On a perfect afternoon for football in Mudgee, Matt Dufty and Gareth Widdop have combined to help the Dragons return to the outright lead on the Telstra Premiership ladder with a 25-18 win over the Canberra Raiders.
After Dufty supplied a brilliant kick that resulted in Widdop scoring a spectacular try in the 49th minute, the diminutive fullback did it all himself to score what proved the match-winning try with 11 minutes remaining.
Widdop made sure his side secured a ninth win in 11 matches with a 76th-minute field goal.
A host of NSW Origin hopefuls including Jack De Belin, Paul Vaughan, Cameron McInnes, Tariq Sims and Nick Cotric each had impressive games.
The Raiders will be left to rue some sloppy last-tackle play from their halves and a couple of brain snaps that left Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine on report and in doubt for next week's home game against Manly.
Match: Dragons v Raiders
Round 11 -
Venue: Glen Willow Oval
It was the Raiders who started the more impressive with Nick Cotric bagging his third try in as many games when he powered over the top of Jason Nightingale in just the fifth minute.
The match's second try was also scored by a NSW Blues hopeful when Jack De Belin backed up from a huge Tariq Sims charge and burst onto a neat McInnes pass.
The Raiders reclaimed the lead in bizarre scenes shortly after; Blake Austin went through the line after sending it right to Joey Leilua and with Dragons defenders claiming an obstruction but failing to play to the whistle, Leilua walked over and placed the ball over the line uncontested.
Widdop drew his team level at 10-10 with a pair of penalty goals late in the half. The first came after a high shot from Josh Papalii on Dufty and the second after the half-time siren for a Joe Tapine shoulder charge, also on Dufty.
The Dragons produced one of the tries of the season in yet another lead change in the 49th minute.
McInnes, another pushing for a possible maiden Origin jersey, produced a brilliant run from dummy half from a quick play the ball to split the Raiders, finding De Belin. The lock then drew the defence and passed to Dufty whose brilliant chip ahead sat up perfectly for Widdop to score.
Attention lapses continued to cost the Red V, and for the second time they found their line breached in slightly embarrassing fashion when a Croker line break drew a penalty and Jordan Rapana caught the defence napping with a quick tap and sprint to the line.
The Dragons argued for a penalty try when Rapana took Nene Macdonald off the ball as the winger attempted to chase a kick for a try in the 61st minute and while the officials were not convinced Macdonald would have won the race to the ball, it was enough for Rapana to go to the bin and the Dragons levelled up at 18-18 via another penalty goal shortly after.
A stunning display of speed and footwork from Dufty to beat half the Raiders team from a short side play in the 70th minute opened up the biggest lead of a constantly see-sawing game at 24-18.
Some awful pieces of last-play execution – which had been an issue for the Raiders throughout the match – brought their attacking chances in the final 10 minutes undone and instead it was a 77th-minute Widdop field goal that put the result beyond doubt.
News & Notes: Blues hopeful Nick Cotric scored a try for a third straight week ... Josh Papalii (high tackle) and Joe Tapine (shoulder charge) both placed on report ... The crowd was 8962 at Mudgee's Glen Willow Stadium ... Raiders next week at home to Manly... Dragons next week travel to Penrith.
Widdop finishes off great Dragons try