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Dragons power to victory in Laurie Daley Cup

Illawarra South Coast Dragons ar the 2022 Laurie Daley Cup Champions (Photo : Steve Montgomery)
Illawarra South Coast Dragons ar the 2022 Laurie Daley Cup Champions (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

Dragons power to victory in Laurie Daley Cup

Author : Tom Gibbs NSWRL

Dragons power to victory in Laurie Daley Cup

CrashClaim, making friends by accident

Illawarra South Coast Dragons have come away with a 40-20 victory over North Coast Bulldogs in the SLE Laurie Daley Cup Grand Final today at St Marys Leagues Stadium.

The Dragons surged to an early 12-0 lead before falling behind on the scoreboard early in the second half, but ecstatic head coach Peter Hooper was pleased by his side’s ability to play on their terms for most of the contest.

Taj Ford, with Peter Hooper Illawarra SC Dragons Coach (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

Taj Ford, with Peter Hooper Illawarra SC Dragons Coach (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

“It (the win) was pretty pleasing, we intended to kick long and play long,” Hooper said.

“It worked until half-time and we probably went away from that for 15 minutes, but to the boys’ credit, I think the grafting part of the first half paid dividends at the back end of the second half.”

The contest was an arm-wrestle for the opening 10 minutes with neither side able to gain any ascendancy on the scoreboard.

Yet Illawarra South Coast would ultimately break the deadlock after pushing upfield and forcing a goal-line drop-out.

The mounting pressure proved too much to handle for the Bulldogs’ defence once the Dragons were back in the attacking 20.

Kyan Hjialtason Ill SC Dragons is the Laurie Daley Cup 'Man of the Match' (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

Kyan Hjialtason Ill SC Dragons is the Laurie Daley Cup ‘Man of the Match’ (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

Front rower Kane Graham crashed over to open the scoring.

Halfback and captain Taj Ford added the extras for a 6-0 lead.

In the immediate set from the kick-off the Dragons shifted to the short side early in the tackle count and managed to go the full field again.

From 20 metres out Dragons hooker Kyan Hjaltason saw the chance to scoot through a retreating Bulldogs’ defensive line before finding an offload for fullback Wesley Pring, who handed off to Ford to score beside the upright.

Ford had no problems with the conversion to follow and the Dragons had a two-try buffer in a matter of moments.

The Bulldogs managed a reply through halfback Mhalikai Mercy when he charged into a gap from close range, but the Dragons pushed the lead back out as Wil Paterson crossed on the stroke of half-time and Ford converted to take their lead to 18-4.

North Coast BULLDOGS 2022 Laurie Daley Cup Grand Final TeamPhoto (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

North Coast BULLDOGS 2022 Laurie Daley Cup Grand Final TeamPhoto (Photo : Steve Montgomery)

The Dragons’ expansive style really came to the fore after the break, and Hooper was happy to see the team maintain the high tempo up until the final whistle.

“I think our style of footy was really good and we always wanted to play with a bit of width, and the boys had enough energy to continue to do that and back themselves, which is really pleasing for the coaching staff,” Hooper explained.

North Coast quickly hit the lead within 10 minutes of the second half.

At that point South Coast Illawarra flicked a switch to score four more tries in the final 20 minutes through Kyle McCarthy, Jack Piccirilli, Ford for his second, and Zakariya Maarbani.

Dragons No.9 Hjaltason was named Player of the Match, constantly keeping his side on the front foot with speed and footwork from dummy-half.

“They’ve been working hard for six months, this group, no matter what I threw at them,” Hooper said.

“On grand final days it’s about the kids and what they want to achieve, and they (the team) did that today.”

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