‘Barbecuegate’ continues to haunt Dragons as Titans send Red V to finals brink

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‘Barbecuegate’ continues to haunt Dragons as Titans send Red V to finals brink

By Adam Pengilly

St George Illawarra’s season is on the brink, and the ‘barbecuegate’ they were so desperate to forget is burning brighter than ever.

The screaming back page headlines have stopped, but that’s about it. They could do worse than check the gas on Paul Vaughan’s patio, because it hasn’t been turned off yet.

A season which was building towards a finals appearance - an acceptable mark on any measure given the dire pre-season predictions - is threatening to blow up.

This latest loss, a humbling 32-10 defeat to the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday, was a game you sensed they had to win if they were to make the finals. Bar perhaps the Eels, no team has a more daunting finals run-in.

They will wake up on Monday morning still inside the top eight, but that’s barely cold comfort. They haven’t won since the illegal gathering and don’t look like winning any time soon. Gold Coast hadn’t beaten a team inside the top eight all year, then the Dragons bumbled into town.

Coach Anthony Griffin is still rotating through the one-game bans for the COVID-19 breaches, and put most of his eggs in the basket against the Titans, knowing two points would edge them oh-so-close to a top eight berth. It didn’t.

Gold Coast’s AJ Brimson tries to escape the Dragons’ Gerard Beale.

Gold Coast’s AJ Brimson tries to escape the Dragons’ Gerard Beale.Credit:Getty

David Fifita, earning $1.2 million this season, started the game on the bench, trudged on and then ran over anyone in Red V he could find. He finished with a try, an outrageous assist for another and left Griffin with one almighty headache.

Asked whether it was a game they had to win if they were to return to the finals, Griffin said: “We’ve got to win every game.

Matt Dufty is collared by the Gold Coast defence.

Matt Dufty is collared by the Gold Coast defence.Credit:Getty

“Last week we put ourselves into a position to beat Manly and it’s getting to the back end of the year now and we’ve got to win some football games. Today we had a chance to win that one and we just weren’t good enough.

“It is tough, but NRL seasons are tough. Our [season] has been particularly tough with some of the things we’ve had to go through. It’s only going to make us stronger and better. We’ve just got keep going with it.”

Having only sat out Corey Norman on the Gold Coast, St George Illawarra still have six players which must serve a suspension in the next fortnight, including big guns Jack de Belin and Jack Bird.

They have the red-hot Rabbitohs next week and if they weren’t so abysmal against the Titans, Griffin might have been tempted to get it over and done with against Wayne Bennett, the man who cut short his start at the Broncos.

Right now, he probably has to play as good a team as he can and hope for the best. The resurgent Raiders are after that, a game which might decide one of the two spots up for grabs in the eight.

Fifita is not being paid a small fortune to sit on the bench, but he is being paid to produce the type of barnstorming tries which can change a match.

Holbrook left him on the pine for the first 23 minutes and by the time he was ushered onto the field, he had lined up Queensland State of Origin teammate Ben Hunt, spindly winger-cum-centre Cody Ramsey and Jordan Pereira - and barrelled past all of them.

“I just had a few chats with Dave and had a good think about it during the week and thought it would be the best option,” Titans coach Justin Holbrook said. “There’s no need to worry about playing 80 minutes, it’s too hard for back-rowers now.

“The impact that he brings is just massive for us. We’ve got to be smart with how we use him. He’s going to get a lot better. We’ll keep working with him. He’s shown a number of times how good he is. Everyone expects that this week, but sometimes it doesn’t work.”

Fifita’s try was enough to give the Titans a 14-6 at the break, with Hunt cancelling out Jarrod Wallace’s opening try when Ramsey spilled a bomb from impressive debutant Toby Sexton.

And from the first set after the break when Bulldogs-bound Matt Dufty spilled a routine long kick, the Dragons never looked likely. Fifita came close to a second, mugged by Bird over the line before on the next set the hulking back-rower laid it on a platter for Greg Marzhew.

Wallace even bagged a double, Sexton a reward for perhaps the best debut you will see all season.

GOLD COAST TITANS 32 (Jarrod Wallace 2, David Fifita, Greg Marzhew, Toby Sexton tries; Sexton 6 goals) defeated ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 10 (Ben Hunt, Jordan Pereiara tries; Jack Bird goal) at Cbus Super Stadium. Referee: Grant Atkins.

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