Dragons scrape past Tigers & into the 2010 NRL Grand Final
St George Illawarra are finally in an NRL grand final, scraping home 13-12 over the Wests Tigers on the back of a Jamie Soward field goal at ANZ Stadium.
The Dragons will now meet the Sydney Roosters in next Sunday's decider at the same venue after the Bondi club won Friday's preliminary final against the Gold Coast 32-6.
But the minor premiers took a harder path to the grand final, falling behind 12-6 at the break but employing their characteristic grind to haul themselves over the line and reach a first decider since 1999.
With the scores locked at 12-12 from the 50th minute, Soward clinically slotted over from 33m out in the 74th to end the Tigers' first finals campaign since a premiership victory in 2005.
The Dragons made the second-last week in both 2005 and 2006 and exited in straight sets last year despite winning the minor premiership in their first season under six-time title-winning coach Wayne Bennett.
The Dragons, as pre-merger St George, last met the Roosters in a grand final in 1975 while they haven't won a competition since 1979, losing five grand finals as both entities after that success.
And it could have been another tale of woe for Dragons fans after the Tigers made the most of the misfiring opponent to take a 12-6 lead in the first 40 minutes.
Rookie halfback Robert Lui had a hand in both of the Tigers' tries, first laying on a neat passing play for Lote Tuqiri to score in the 17th minute.
Bennett's men replied in the 28th when lock Jeremy Smith, who had looked to be the third Dragon to be held up in the first 40, squeezed the ball down after a clever dummy-half play from reserve Nathan Fien.
But Lui scored under the posts in the 36th minute for the Tigers to regain the lead after a superb offload from Liam Fulton.
The Dragons locked it up at 12-12 in the 50th minute after Jamie Soward sent Jason Nightingale on a sprint down the right, and the winger was on hand to score under the posts on the next play.
The momentum turned St George Illawarra's way and, as the Tigers' attack faltered, Soward stepped up to the mark to fire home.
The Dragons survived a final minute attacking blitz started by Tigers prop Keith Galloway before a large majority of the 71,212 fans erupted.
An unsavoury verbal clash between rival hookers Dean Young and Robbie Farah, with Young alleged to have made a racially derogatory remark, threatened to overshadow the clash.
Young and Farah were involved in an altercation after the Dragons No.9 had been held up over the Tigers' line in the 21st minute but the Tigers skipper declined to take the matter further with referees Shayne Hayne and Ben Cummins.
Bennett said he'd sent a message down to ensure his side snagged a point before the game hit extra time.
"They set it up great and they had the belief and the confidence they could hold out for another six or seven minutes," he said.
"That's all part of the package - if you don't think you can hold that one point, then you don't go for it, you're looking for more."
The fans may see him as the saviour, but Bennett said entering his eighth grand final week - and third against arch rival Brian Smith - hadn't yet hit home.
"It hasn't kind of struck me yet," he said.
"It was a pretty tough game - intense and you're never sure ... so the feeling will get better as the night goes on."
Tigers coach Tim Sheens said his side were in a similar position to the Dragons of last year.
"(They) went on to be stronger from it and that's where we want to be, stronger for it next year," Sheens said.