Averillo scores spectacular double to leave Dragons hanging by a thread

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Post-match press conferences are funny exhibits.

Wayne Bennett gives the impression he hates the damn things, when in truth it’s a performance he looks forward to every week. Des Hasler would feign not being able to hear a question, when in fact it’s just a tactic to keep a reporter on their toes while he gets more thinking time. Other coaches will try to get everyone to buy something no one else is seeing.

Are they even necessary?

For Anthony Griffin, another innocent question about his future — not even directed to him — was the sign his frustration is finally at tipping point. He jumped in front of his captain Ben Hunt, and tried to draw a line underneath conjecture about an NRL head coaching career on borrowed time.

“I don’t think you need to get him to answer it like that,” interjected Griffin, his side slumping to a fourth straight loss in an 18-16 defeat to the Bulldogs at WIN Stadium on Sunday. “He’s answered it enough.”

Now it’s time for the St George Illawarra board to answer their own question: if Griffin is not the man for the future, why is he still the man for the present?

Ben Hunt.Credit: Getty

In some ways it’s noble the club told him up front before round one they would be exploring external candidates for the job in 2024, but there will be nothing noble in making him coach out his dying days with a team treading water and on course to miss the finals for the third straight year under him.

He could easily argue how things could have been different in the last month.

They scored more tries than the Roosters on Anzac Day, the same amount as the Titans, Raiders and Bulldogs either side of that — and lost every game. In the last three matches, their opponents have had a combined four sin-bins to none. They still haven’t been able to win.

“It’s terribly frustrating,” Griffin shrugged.

This week, the Dragons travel to Brisbane to take on the Tigers in Magic Round. Bar pulling some sort of Harry Houdini act, Griffin will do well to survive the trip back to Wollongong if they can’t beat the wooden spoon favourites.

On the other hand, the Bulldogs had so many injuries heading into this game they could have lined up outside the stadium and finished the queue at the famous Chicko’s down the road. Viliame Kikau, Josh Addo-Carr, Luke Thompson, Max King, Ryan Sutton, Jacob Kiraz et al.

Unlike the Dragons, they found a way to win.

“It says a lot about the club,” coach Cameron Ciraldo said. “It’s what we stand for and what our standards are no matter who is playing. If you pull on a Bulldogs jersey, there’s expectations and standards there we want you to live up to.

“The last few weeks, it’s been tough. After losing three games in a row, it was a tough week. We never spoke about who wasn’t playing, it was more about who was playing. It says a lot about the club and what the club is built on.”

Jake Averillo celebrates one of his two long-range tries with Bulldogs teammates.Credit: Getty

Ciraldo was forced to ask the NRL for an exemption for Harrison Edwards, who is outside the club’s top 30. He started at prop. Teenage whiz kid Karl Oloapu made his debut off the bench, and he and Matt Burton might stay in the halves for years to come.

But on this day it was Jake Averillo who shone brightest, scoring two sparkling long-range tries from 80 metres out, both times burning St George Illawarra No.1 Tyrell Sloan.

Even when Corey Waddell went to the sin-bin in the second half for a professional foul on Zac Lomax and the Dragons immediately trimmed the margin to two, they kept fumbling and the Bulldogs kept fighting.

Alas, they also play without fear as Josh Reynolds, who had a run-in with referee Grant Atkins at half-time after being penalised for an incident with Sloan on the ground, kicked for Averillo three metres out from his own line on one set.

“We’re not going to play like every other team, we play differently,” Ciraldo said. “We’ve got different strengths than other teams and we’re going to have to play a different way, take more risk and move the ball around. I think you saw signs of that tonight. ‘Grub’ [Reynolds] played what he saw and we trust that.”

On the Atkins-Reynolds incident, skipper Reed Mahoney said: “We might have to have his mouth taped when he plays. He’s the ultimate competitor and he wears his heart on his sleeve. I wouldn’t [trade] him for anyone else.”

The Dragons have been, for months, mulling trading Griffin for almost anyone else.

It might be time for them to take the tape off their mouth and explain where their club is heading.

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