SYDNEY (AP) — St. George Illawarra beat North Queensland 24-10 to regain top ranking in Australia's National Rugby League at the end of a disruptive month in which leading players are wearied and distracted by State of Origin duties.
The Dragons' hard-fought win in the 19th round of the regular season lifted them back into first place on points differential, ahead of Souths who suffered their first loss since round eight, going down 22-6 to Wests.
After making the early pace in the premiership, St. George dropped away from the lead during the State of Origin period, between rounds 13 and 18, during which they lost to Wests and Melbourne.
Their win on Saturday revitalized their campaign as the premiership race heads into the final stage of the regular season. But the Dragons still face a tough road with matches to come against top-eight teams the Roosters, New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers.
"Collectively as a 17 we all performed and lived up to our standards that we set as a team which is probably what has let us down a little bit the last few weeks," Dragons star Gareth Widdop said. "It was good to see that we turned up for each other tonight."
Coach Anthony Seibold admitted Souths were outplayed in every department by Wests in a defeat which soured celebrations of John Sutton's 300th premiership match.
"I'm not a massive believer in having to lose a game to learn but Wests Tigers were far better than us tonight and beat us in most areas of the game," Seibold said. "To be fair we were outplayed; we need to make sure we review it, take away some of the key learnings and dive into next week's opposition (Parramatta)."
Cronulla beat Canberra 28-24 in a contentious match Friday to stay on terms with third-placed Melbourne, who play the seventh-placed Warriors on Sunday.
Captain Wade Graham suffered a groin injury and didn't return for a second half in which Cronulla repelled a strong Canberra comeback.