St George Illawarra drew first blood in the new World Club Series by grinding out a win over Warrington in an action-packed clash in front of a 13,080 crowd at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
It was a full-blooded encounter in which the NRL club incurred the wrath of the partisan crowd with two ugly high tackles that might well have produced red cards in Super League.
The Wolves battled throughout, but had no real answer to the craft of the Dragons’ Anglo-Kiwi half-back pairing of Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall.
The visitors made the best possible start, making the most of an early knock-on by former player Ashton Sims as Wales international second rower Tyson Frizell took a short pass from Marshall to go in for the first try with just 80 seconds on the clock.
Widdop added the goal to make it 6-0, but Warrington’s response was impressive, with second rower James Laithwaite held up over the line before O’Brien brought them level after dummying his way past Marshall and full-back Josh Dugan to score a superb solo try, to which he added the goal.
The kicking game of Widdop and Marshall always threatened to cause problems for Warrington’s defence and, when Monaghan failed to clear the former’s grubber on the last tackle, second rower Joel Thompson pounced to score a second try.
Referee Ben Thaler seemed determined to let the game flow, but he was forced to blow up for a horrible-looking tackle by Nabuli on Kevin Penny and Warrington took advantage of the first penalty of the match to score their second try on 29 minutes, centre Ryan Atkins taking Wheeler’s pass to cross at the corner.
Warrington had a claim for a penalty try ruled out and trailed 12-10 at the break, but they almost fell further behind early in the second half when Dugan was held up on his back over the line.
A string of errors forced the Wolves onto the defensive, but some robust work from forwards Ben Westwood and Chris Hill saw them rally and they drew level with a penalty from O’Brien on 58 minutes.
This followed another ugly high shot, this time by Marshall on O’Brien, and the penalties began to pile up as the Australian side’s discipline slipped.
However, just as Warrington got on top, they conceded a try against the run of play.
Hooker Mitch Rein split them down the middle and, after Daryl Clark was only able to parry Marshall’s kick, Dugan was on hand to gather the ball and touch down.
Widdop kicked his third goal to wrap up the scoring, although Monaghan had a late chance to earn a possible share of the spoils before spilling a difficult pass from Chris Bridge.