Flanagan’s spray powers Dragons to upset over Panthers

An almighty halftime spray from Shane Flanagan has inspired undermanned St George Illawarra to come from behind and spring one of the upsets of the season on a similarly depleted Penrith.

Prior to Saturday’s 22-10 loss, the three-time reigning premiers had lost only one of their last 80 games when leading at halftime by double digits, but were powerless to stop a Dragons side that ran in 22 unanswered second-half points.

Eight Origin representatives were missing across the two sides on top of injuries and a sloppy affair unfolded before 12,025 fans – the Panthers’ smallest BlueBet Stadium crowd since the COVID-affected 2020 season.

It was another Jekyll-and-Hyde performance for the Dragons, who were error-prone, under pressure and incoherent with the ball in a rainy first half.

But from the literal first moment of the second half, the script flipped dramatically.

In only his second NRL game and after a tough first half, right winger Sione Finau sprinted through the Penrith defense from the restart and brought down on halfway.

The visitors never looked back, powering their way to a memorable win even without Ben Hunt, Zac Lomax, Jaydn Su’A (Origin duty), Hame Sele and Jack Bird (injured).

Flanagan said he read the riot act to his Dragons at halftime.

“It wasn’t pretty, especially to a few individuals,” he said.

“You’ve probably only got two or three per year that you can have and I’ve used one.

“I was really disappointed the way we played the first half, just turned the football over. It was awful.

“We just didn’t give ourselves a chance. We needed the break, definitely needed halftime to get them into the room. To their credit, they responded really well.”

Stand-in captain Jack de Belin credited Flanagan’s spray for the turnaround.

“It was needed. He was only speaking the truth and it was honest,” he said.

“As you’ve seen, it got the results it was after.”

Replacing Hunt, Jesse Marschke started as an NRL halfback for the first time and masterminded the two tries that wiped Penrith’s lead within 10 minutes of the resumption.

He first changed direction with a short ball to Toby Couchman, who spun over on return to the first-grade side, and then sent a grubber kick through for fullback Tyrell Sloan.

Tyrell Sloan celebrates after scoring against the Panthers. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Mat Feagai and Raymond Faitala-Mariner, St George Illawarra’s best forward on the right edge, confirmed the result with four-pointers of their own in the space of four minutes.

The Panthers missed a golden chance to finish a weekend atop the ladder for the first time this season.

They were without Dylan Edwards, Brian To’o, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin to Origin duty – and lost Moses Leota to a hamstring issue mid-game – but their major issues were with the fundamentals of the game.

“We just could never get any sort of field position, momentum, possession throughout the second half,” said Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.

“I thought the intentions were right, we just kept making mistakes.”

Penrith completed only three sets across the first 20 minutes of the second half as the Dragons began to take control, and had some uncharacteristic moments of madness.

Nathan Cleary’s injury replacement Brad Schneider timed out on a dropout, conceding a penalty, before Izack Tago spilled the ball coming out of trouble.

Replacement five-eighth Jack Cole set up the Panthers’ only two tries, but they were a distant memory once the Dragons got going.

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