AAP Rugby

Hunt’s grubber sparks Dragons NRL comeback

By AAP Newswire

Ben Hunt turned the tables on his critics by helping St George Illawarra avoid the upset of the NRL season and come from behind to beat last-placed Parramatta 20-18 at WIN Stadium.

Just four days after copping criticism for kicking the ball dead late in Queensland's doomed pursuit of NSW's tryline in State of Origin II, the under-fire half's grubber came to the rescue on Thursday night.

With the Dragons trailing 18-8 with seven minutes to play, a Hunt kick from close to the line looked certain to go dead before it sat up and chasing centre Euan Aitken latched onto it to score.

It sparked the previously lacklustre Saints, who took the lead through Matt Dufty from a Gareth Widdop grubber moments later to keep them at the top of the ladder.

It came at the end of a difficult night for Hunt, who three times kicked into Eels defenders and twice handed the ball over with errors - albeit one from a difficult Jeremy Latimore ball.

But when it mattered most, the 28-year-old proved his character in one of his final plays before the Queensland side for Game III is named.

"No one lets (criticism) wash over you that quickly," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

"It's just how long it sticks with you for and how you get on with it.

"Other times (tonight) Ben would like to have his time over again. The timing of the try was obviously important."

It was a cruel end for Brad Arthur's Eels, who looked set to become the first last-placed side to beat a team ranked first since April 2015.

"I thought we were the better team actually," Arthur said.

"That's probably why we are sitting last at the moment because we found a way to lose that game."

After they went to the break up 12-8, Parramatta scored their only points of the second half when Jarryd Hayne spun and twisted his way over in the 48th minute from a flat Clint Gutherson ball.

Hayne, who required a pain-killing needle in his left shoulder before playing, had his best game of the year with some nice touches in the first half and helped force the powerful Luciano Leilua out as he looked set to score in the second.

Fellow veteran Tim Mannah also turned it on to set up the Eels' first points with a sidestep from within his own half to put Bevan French over, while Nathan Brown scored the other try.

The Dragons' win came without the rested Tyson Frizell and Leeson Ah Mau, while Blues Origin prop Paul Vaughan is likely to face a fine after being placed on report for a trip.

The Red V also entered a contender for the try of the year with their only first-half four-pointer, as Dufty finished off a movement that included a Vaughan offload, Nene Macdonald kick, Widdop bat-back and Tim Lafai flick-pass.