'Agony' for injured Dragons star amid 'soft' defeat

‘Agony’ for injured Dragons star amid ‘soft’ defeat

St George Illawarra has been blown off the park by the Bulldogs in a “soft” second-half display, with Jack Bird‘s gruesome ankle injury derailing the wounded Dragons.

Despite taking a six-point lead into the break, the Saints failed to come out of the sheds for the second 40 minutes as the hosts piled on the points at Accor Stadium. 

Canterbury crossed on seven-straight occasions after half-time to win 44-12 in a performance that will no doubt please head coach Cameron Ciraldo. 

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Moses Suli kicked off the scoring for the Dragons — crashing over after receiving a slick cut-out pass from Ben Hunt – in a powerful start to the contest.

Canterbury responded through Matt Burton who defied physics to ground the ball just before the dead-ball line in brilliant fashion.

Dragons front-rower Hame Sele was ruled out with a shoulder injury mid-way through the first half before Bird suffered a horrific-looking ankle injury before the break.

“He is in agony,” Andrew Johns said on Nine.

“It’s a great story of resilience. He has had a history of knee injuries, but he also suffers from really bad rheumatoid arthritis. He has to take constant medication.”

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However, reports from Nine’s Danika Mason early in the second half gave some room for positivity, with the club’s medical staff now of the belief Bird suffered a bad ankle sprain and could be back within six weeks.

With the visitors down to 15 men for the second half, the Bulldogs crossed twice in quick succession through Jaeman Salmon to take the lead for the first time as Shane Flanagan was forced to reshuffle his backline and move Tom Eisenhuth out wide.

Jacob Kiraz kept the roll going for the Dogs, scoring in the corner despite a potential obstruction in the lead-up, before Jacob Preston scored a fourth unanswered try from close range as the wounded Red V continued to struggle.

“It’s beyond soft,” Johns said.

“One-out, no one around Preston. On Monday afternoon when they do the review, it won’t be nice to look at for the Dragons back-rowers … that was poor.”

The issues continued when Zac Lomax was sin-binned for a professional foul in the 63rd minute, opening the door for Burton and Stephen Crichton to put the icing on the cake with late tries as they push for a spot in the NSW Blues lineup.

Crichton is expected to be selected in the centres for the State of Origin opener, while Burton is in the running for the No.6 jumper and did his chances no harm with a strong showing on Thursday night. 

Kiraz scored a second try in the corner with less than two minutes remaining to give the Bulldogs supporters one final moment to cheer. 

The victory puts Canterbury back in touch with the top eight, while the loss for Flanagan’s men will see them head back to the drawing board.

“Some of these players from the Dragons need to look in the mirror,” Cam Smith said. 

“They didn’t come out of the sheds … you have to make those tackles at this level.”

The injuries to Bird and Sele – as well as Ben Hunt’s likely absence due to Origin commitments – could be a major headache for the Dragons, who may be forced to blood some youngsters in round 13 against reigning premiers Penrith. 

“Last time I was in this room I won a comp – how things have changed. It was so bad you’ve got to try and laugh about it,” coach Flanagan said post-game.

“The two halves were so different … possession killed us and when we finally did get possession, we turned it over – we were our own worst enemy.

“We were down to 15 and when you lose a centre, it is hard. We struggled there a little bit and they scored some tries late in the second half around those areas … you’ve got to be able to handle it. If I could put my finger on it exactly, I would fix it. 

Flanagan didn’t rule out making unforced changes to his squad next weekend, with the NSW Cup side producing another strong display in the curtain-raiser. 

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