St George Illawarra has shocked Parramatta 26-12 at Western Sydney Stadium, ending the Eels’ unbeaten start to the season.
Still off-contract and wanting to stay at the Dragons, fullback Matt Dufty scored two tries and set up the other two in one of the best performances of his career on Sunday evening.
The Dragons’ edges were also superb in defence as they regularly shut down the Eels, while their attack was nice and direct with Adam Clune in the number seven jersey.
Favourites for the wooden spoon before the season began, the Dragons are now surprise members of the top four after a 4-1 start to the season.
And the Eels are easily their biggest scalp so far, after the Red V skipped out to an 18-0 half-time lead on the back of their fullback.
Dufty has long maintained he can be one of the NRL’s best fullbacks, but consistency has been his problem.
On Sunday he was electric.
The face-ball for the Dragons’ first points was perfectly timed, putting Jack Bird into a gap for the centre’s first try since April 2019.
Dufty’s passing game was once seen as his weakness, but has improved dramatically in the past 18 months.
His other assist again came through the hands with a lofted two-man cut-out ball for winger Mikaele Ravalawa to score.
Dufty’s own four-pointers were a little more contentious, with his first in the form of a penalty try after Nathan Brown took him out while chasing his own kick.
After a nice inside ball from Clune, Dufty broke free and grubbered for himself before the bunker ruled he would have been the first to the ball.
His second also came after handy lead-up work from Clune, with the hint of a forward pass back inside for Dufty to go over.
But it should not take away from the 25-year-old’s performance.
The Eels were left to rue a frantic 10-minute period when Tariq Sims was in the sin-bin and the Dragons down to 12 men.
While Isaiah Papali’i scored almost immediately on the back of three repeat sets, they failed to make use of 61 per cent of possession for the rest of the period.
In that 10 minutes alone they coughed the ball up three times and had two poor kick options from Bryce Cartwright and Shaun Lane.
Making matters worse, the Dragons were then able to kick out to a 20-6 lead just after Sims returned when Tom Opacic gave away a penalty on the next set.
Captain Clint Gutherson collected a late consolation try for the Eels, but finished the night on report for a late hit on Clune in the lead up to Dufty’s last try.
Cowboys stun Tigers
The spirit of hard-nosed Wests legend Tommy Raudonikis was everywhere but on the field in the first half at Leichhardt Oval, as North Queensland stunned the hosts to set up a 34-30 win.
The famous hill was heaving with fans ready to honour ex-Magpies, Australia and New South Wales halfback Raudonikis who died during the week, but the emotion was sucked out of the air as the Cowboys ran rampant in the first 40 minutes.
By half-time some in the 9,433-strong crowd turned their voices to booing the Tigers into the sheds after they had sunk to a stunning 28-6 deficit.
The Tigers were a revived side in the second half, however, running in five tries and having another denied by the bunker to bring the crowd raging back to life.
Both teams scored six tries, but three missed conversions from Adam Doueihi proved the difference as the Tigers fell just short of a famous comeback victory and the Cowboys claimed their first win of the season.
Joe Ofahengaue, Tommy Talau, David Nofoaluma, Luciano Leilua and Luke Garner all punched through to score in the second half as the Tigers racked up quick points to push the Cowboys right to the final whistle.
The Tigers were left ruing what could have been when — with 18 minutes to go — the Bunker denied a try to Nofoaluma, ruling the Cowboys’ defence was obstructed in the lead-up.
The decision temporarily halted the rampaging Tigers’ momentum and the Cowboys scored soon after through Lachlan Burr to extend their lead.
Despite the comeback, Maguire said he was shocked the side did not turn up in the first half on a special day to honour Raudonikis.
Again, he said defensive lapses were to blame and flagged potential changes next week.
“Our reserve grade is going well, so we’ll have a look,” he said.
The Cowboys will now play Canterbury in Townsville on Sunday, while the Tigers play South Sydney – and former skipper Benji Marshall – at Stadium Australia on Saturday.