Hunt leads Dragons to controversial win
The Red V march on at the top of the NRL ladder as Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop did likewise over their big money scrumbase opposites in a 24-8 Anzac Day triumph.
Before a record crowd of 41,142 for rugby league's most anticipated regular season fixture, St George Illawarra's Hunt outpointed fellow million-dollar halfback Cooper Cronk at the Sydney Roosters to have one hand on his old Queensland No.7 jumper.
But the other main talking point post-match was the controversial try awarded to Nene Macdonald in the 68th minute after it appeared Cronk had made a spectacular cover tackle dislodging the ball from the Dragons' winger's hands.
However, the bunker ruled Macdonald kept fingertip control on the ball even though it appeared he lost control with his right hand just as his left hand rolled over the surface.
The score was 18-8 in the Dragons favour but if the try had been disallowed - as most at the ground thought it would be - it would have given the Roosters a sniff of hope. Insitead the scoreboard drfited out to 24-8, which remained the fulltime tally.
Later, NRL referees boss Bernard Sutton revealed the decision by the bunker's Jared Maxwell and Luke Patten was incorrect.
"Having reviewed the decision it can be seen that the ball rotates, which indicates possession has been lost," Sutton said, adding the correct ruling would have been a knock-on.
While the Dragons forwards repeatedly bashed Cronk into the turf, Hunt turned the contest on its head with the money play – a scything sidestep for a telling solo try - in a rough and ready first half.
Match: Dragons vs Roosters
Venue: Allianz Stadium
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He and Widdop featured heavily in each of the Dragons four tries as Cronk and Luke Keary probed, but rarely broke a ruthless Red V defence that made no bones of a 46 per cent share of possession.
In the end a 16-point margin spelled out the gulf between the two sides, even withstanding the Macdonald try decision.
The masterclass from the Dragons halves started from their first touches of the football.
St George Illawarra went 100 metres in their opening set for Macdonald to score his first try in corner after Blake Ferguson fumbled a Widdop kick.
As the Roosters moved themselves into the Red V red zone, the Dragons infringements began with Cameron McInnes taking out Keary as he pursued a Cronk chip kick.
Several sets, penalties and desperate knock downs later, the Tricolours took the two on offer. The Dragons applauded them, and their own watertight defence.
Widdop missed his own attempt from 40 out five minutes later, while a line-ball Ferguson knock-on batting back a kick denied the Roosters once more at the other end.
The penalties and errors book-ended brutal defence from both sets of big men, while their smaller ilk – Keary and Tedesco, McInnes and Hunt – poked and pestered without points.
But with seconds remaining in the half Hunt went all-in and collected the lot, running off the ruck, stepping Boyd Cordner and Keary for a 12-2 lead.
A Tim Lafai fumble in the first minute of the second stanza gave the Roosters a sniff, but only until Tariq Sims snuffed it out by belting Cronk into an error.
When Widdop piloted Sims at Cronk on his own line, it looked like curtains with half an hour to play.
Once more it was the little men sparking the Roosters into life, Tedesco finding space behind the ruck before Keary grubbered for Latrell Mitchell to touch down.
A cross-field kick from Cronk had the Tricolours pressing soon after, but a knock-on in the air denied Victor Radley a 54th minute try.
While the Roosters continued to press, Widdop kept them at bay as he forced repeat sets after the hour mark.
With pressure mounting Hunt was involved once more as he and Matt Dufty sent Macdonald over in the corner.
And with that, the Dragons skipped to their seventh win after right rounds and - until the second placed Warriors take the paddock at least - into clear air at the top of the ladder.