The Dragons spoiled Shaun Johnson’s Warriors homecoming with a 28-16 win led by Mikaele Ravalawa who bagged a hat-trick at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday.
St George Illawarra did spoiled Johnson’s party early when rookie fullback Tyrell Sloan threw a sublime cutout pass to send Mikaele Ravalawa over in the corner for the first points of the day.
They backed it up eight minutes later with Jack Bird crossing also off a Sloan pass.
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But the 19-year-old is human after all. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak put a grubber in and ran around Ben Hunt and Sloan — who expected the ball to go over the sideline — and planted it down to get the Warriors on the board.
The Warriors went back-to-back when Josh Curran made a break off a sneaky Shaun Johnson pass. After charging down the field, he passed onto Wade Egan who crossed for the four-pointer. Johnson slotted the conversion to bring his side within two points of the Dragons with eight minutes left in the first half.
The momentum had well and truly shifted with the Warriors coming out firing in the second half and snatching the lead thanks to Johnson.
The man of the moment kicked a 40-20 and then set Eli Katoa up for a try with a double pump pass that Fox League analyst Greg Alexander dubbed as “magic.”
Alexander was also critical of the Dragons who had dropped off after a fast start.
“They’ve fallen off a cliff,” he said.
The Dragons got a much-needed try 11 minutes later through Ravalawa who outmuscled several Warriors players to score.
And then the powerhouse winger crossed for his third after two flick passes in the lead up from Zac Lomax and Jaydn Su’A.
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DRAGONS OVERCOME FIRST HALF FADE-OUT
If Dragons coach Anthony Griffin takes anything out of Saturday’s win over the Warriors he should be his side’s spirited fightback after looking like they were heading down and out of the clash.
The Red V looked dangerous early, scoring two tries in the opening 14 minutes but a brain-snap from Tyrell Sloan opened the door for the Warriors to get on the board. From then it looked like the Dragons had lost control of the game.
“The Warriors have gained the ascendancy and the Dragons have fallen in a hole in that time,” Fox League analyst Greg Alexander said.
“They’ve fallen off a cliff.
“I just think they need to think about what they were doing, it was great in the opening 25 minutes. They’ve just fallen into a hole, they’ve gone away from what was working early. Execution has been poor. Anthony Griffin needs to point them in the right direction.”
Sideline commentator Corey Parker agreed: “The Dragons have dead set fallen off the perch, they had been in control for most part of this half.”
But the Dragons found their mojo in the second half via Mikaele Ravalawa who scored two more tries to add to his first four-pointer. Moses Mbye crossed for the match-sealer in the 74th minute to end any chances of the Warriors snatching the lead late in the piece.
Alexander was impressed with how they were able to bounce back from a dull period.
“They got off to a great start then just fell in a hole, their execution was poor, they looked disjointed, they were dropping the ball and they allowed the Warriors back into it,” he said.
Fox League commentator Brenton Speed highlighted how the Dragons’ new signings delivered in a good sign for the loyal fanbase that went through so much last season.
“Think of the recruitment drive that the Dragons went through after missing the finals last season, barbecue-gate and all that,” he said.
“Su’A outstanding on the right edge, Fanky Molo off the bench, Mbye with the match-sealing try.”
‘MAGIC’ JOHNSON IMPRESSES IN HOMECOMING
Shaun Johnson had plenty to play for in his homecoming game and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
While the Warriors didn’t get the win, fans can take a lot of comfort out of the superstar playmakers return.
Greg Alexander touched on how an older and more mature Johnson will be a different player for the Warriors than what he was before he left for his Sharks stint.
“It’s about the experience, control, the decision making. It’s not all about the brilliance,” he said.
“Although I’m an unabashed Johnson fan because he can do things that not many could. But a little bit of magic mixed in with decision making and as we said before, he’ll be a great signing.”
And we did see exactly that.
Johnson kicked a 40-20 and then set up Eli Katoa for a try off a double-pump pass.
Alexander called it a “massive play” before lauding Johnson’s skill.
“Shaun Johnson, magic, absolutely magic off the boot and then the hands (too),” he said.
“He almost handed the ball to Eli Katoa, the pass was that short… Perfectly timed. The 40-20 from inside his 30, a monster kick.”
‘ROCKS AND DIAMONDS’ RAVALAWA DELIVERS WHEN IT MATTERS
Corey Parker said it best when he described Dragons powerhouse winger Mikaele Ravalawa as “rocks and diamonds.”
The Fijian flyer scored in the sixth minute, 57th minute and 66th minute but also had some not so great moments – like when he knocked on off the kick-off.
But regardless of his error, Ravalawa proved to be one of the Dragons’ most important players, notching up 152 running meters, four tackle busts and three linebreaks to go with his hat-trick.
Perhaps his most impressive effort was when he outmuscled several Warriors players to score his second.
“He’s a machine. Just have a look at him – how do you stop him a couple of meters out from the line?” Alexander said.
But just when you thought you had seen the best try of the game, Ravalawa crossed for his third off two flick passes in the lead up from Jaydn Su’A and Zac Lomax.
“Ravalawa had no room and stepped back on in the inside to beat Montoya who’s having a nightmare against big Mikaele,” Alexander said.
“Then over the top of Harris-Tavita, drags him into the in-goal area. Great evasive play from Ravalawa.”
Corey Parker added: “Ravalawa, at times he can be rocks, at times he can be diamonds. He’s been a little bit of both tonight but he comes up with a very, very important try for the Dragons.”
Warriors: 1. Chanel Harris-Tavita 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Viliami Vailea 4. Rocco Berry 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Bunty Afoa 11. Euan Aitken 12. Eliesa Katoa 13. Josh Curran 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila 16. Aaron Pene 17. Bayley Sironen Replacement player: 18. Jack Murchie
Dragons: 1. Tyrell Sloan 2. Cody Ramsey 3. Moses Suli 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Talatau Amone 7. Ben Hunt 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Aaron Woods 11. Jack Bird 12. Jaydn Su’A 13. Jack de Belin 14. Moses Mbye 15. Francis Molo 16. Josh Kerr 17. Jack Gosiewski 18. Jackson Ford