Playmaker Gareth Widdop looks for support during the Dragons' Round 20 win over the Sea Eagles in Wollongong.
Playmaker Gareth Widdop looks for support during the Dragons' Round 20 win over the Sea Eagles in Wollongong. Mark Nolan

Widdop shines as Dragons unearth new star

RUGBY LEAGUE: Gareth Widdop produced a first-half masterclass to inspire a stunning Dragons win but it was the arrival of Generation Next that will put the collective mind of Red V fans at rest.

Ahead 30-0 at the break after a dominant first half, the Dragons extinguished a Manly fightback early in the second stanza to run out impressive 52-22 winners in their Round 18 clash at Wollongong on Sunday afternoon.

Widdop was magical in the first term, producing three try assists, his own 90-metre intercept try, a 40/20 kick, a forced drop out and 14 individual points before the siren had sounded for the break.

Daly Cherry-Evans is chasing a halves partner.
Daly Cherry-Evans and his Manly teammates struggled to contain the Dragons who ran out dominant winners. DAN HIMBRECHTS

By contrast, opposing half Daly Cherry-Evans produced three errors, one running metre and two missed tackles in a dismal 40 minutes of individual football.

But while Widdop was the mastermind behind the 52-22 Dragons win, it was young debutant Matt Dufty who allayed the collective fears of fans around the Illawarra and Kogarah.

Dufty stepped in to replace representative fullback Josh Dugan and he may have just earned himself the club's No.1 jumper for 2018.

Dugan is headed to Cronulla next year and coach Paul McGregor needs to find a new fullback.

Jake Trbojevic of the Eagles tackles Matthew Dufty of the Dragons during the Round 20 NRL match between the St. George Illawarra Dragons and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, Sunday, July 23, 2017. (AAP Image/Craig Golding) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Dragons fullback Matthew Dufty tries to break free of Manly forward Jake Trbojevic's tackle. CRAIG GOLDING

Dufty had a try, two try assists and looked as comfortable as any young man stepping into the NRL arena for the first time.

Those try assists are what many believe are missing from the game of Dugan, who has previously been criticised for his inability to ball-play.

But Dufty's running game looked equally as strong. He racked up 166 running metres and his try came from a stunning linebreak on the stroke of full-time.

There's been plenty of speculation as to who will play the role for St George Illawarra next year, but Dufty may have answered that question.