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A ruthlessly professional performance by the Bulldogs has given them a big 38-12 victory over an injury-depleted St George Illawarra in their National Rugby League clash in Wollongong.

After a tight first 25 minutes, the Dogs scored two tries to lead 12-2 at half-time in front of a near record crowd of more than 18,000.

The Dragons had what looked like a try ruled out by the video referee to start the second half and the Bulldogs then put on four tries before the home side posted two late, almost meaningless replies.

Hazem El Masri strengthened his State of Origin claims after the injury to Timana Tahu, kicking seven goals from as many attempts and scoring a try.

In more bad news for the home side their injury list lengthened when centre Matt Cooper and prop Jason Ryles both suffered knee injuries.

Cooper is facing two to three weeks on the sidelines while the extent of Ryles's injury was unclear. Both were in the New South Wales 30-man squad.

The Dragons almost made a stunning start to the second half when Ben Creagh looked to have scored.

Creagh, a former basketballer, made an ordinary kick by half-back Lachlan Russell look good when he rose above the crowd, took the ball and ran around Dogs full-back Luke Patten to plant the ball.

But the video ref ruled a Dragons player, who did not interfere with the play, was in front of the kicker and the Bulldogs were given a penalty.

Minutes later the Bulldogs made them pay. A towering bomb was contested by the two full-backs. The Dragons' Ben Hornby fumbled and the ball went backwards to Patten who'd overrun the contest.

Patten scored and Hazem El Masri converted for an 18-2 lead.

Cooper and Ryles had both left the field by the time the Bulldogs crossed for their fourth try of the night.

Centre Ben Harris marked his return to first grade with a try in the 57th minute after the Dogs took advantage of naive defence down the home side's left-hand side. El Masri converted from the sideline.

El Masri scored himself in the same corner after he beat two of his team-mates to a Sherwin chip. Again he converted from the sideline.

Almost from the kick-off the Bulldogs were in again, moving the ball rapidly before Jamie Feeney slid over for a try. Like clockwork, El Masri converted, this time from 15 metres in from touch.

St George Illawarra did hit back in the 73rd minute when interchange forward Justin Poore charged over from close range through some uncharacteristically feeble defence. Riddell was unable to convert and the score remained 36-6.

A late El Masri penalty, after a series of infringements by the hosts, took the score out by two before the Dragons completed the scoring.

After a break by Creagh, who leapt high to take a short kick-off by the Dragons, Hornby won the race to a grubber kick to score. Riddell converted from in front.

Both sides made a neat start to the match, with few errors and attacking opportunities at both ends.

But neither side was able to break the deadlock until the 25th minute when the Dragons went ahead through a Mark Riddell penalty.

Referee Tim Mander awarded the penalty almost right in front after Dogs second-rower Willie Mason had taken too long to clear the ruck after tackling Shaun Timmins.

It took an error to open the door for the first try and it was Timmins, the Dragons' captain for the day, who made it.

He dropped the ball close to his line after a scrum. Mason swooped on the ball and was dragged down just short, but from dummy half Patten squirmed over.

El Masri converted for the Dogs to lead 6-2.

Just minutes later the Bulldogs were in again. A penalty near their own line set the visitors on their way after the Dragons picked up El Masri, who had fielded a kick, and tried to carry him back into the in goal area.

Steve Price then busted the Dragons' line and his pass put Tony Grimaldi away to score. El Masri again converted and the Dogs had a 10-point break.

The home side began the match short of a number of their regular stars.

Halves Trent Barrett (hamstring) and Matthew Head (rib) are both out injured, along with second-rower Lance Thompson (shoulder) and prop Nathan Long (knee).

Dragons' Test front-rower Luke Bailey was ruled out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle last weekend.

Young half-back Russell came in for Head while Timmins moved to five-eighth to cover for Barrett.

Both teams began the match looking to overturn their indifferent form from last weekend.

The Dogs were belted 32-6 by an under-strength Newcastle side while St George Illawarra was out-muscled 21-10 by Manly.

A number of players were also pressing for selection for the opening State of Origin match of the 2004 season.

Dragons centre Mark Gasnier is in the running for a place in the Blues' squad as are forwards Brent Kite, Mark Riddell and Jason Ryles.

Bulldogs Mason, Andrew Ryan, Mark O'Meley and El Masri are also in the running for New South Wales.

The two captains - Steve Price for the Dogs and Timmins for the Dragons - are near certain selections for Queensland and New South Wales respectively.


Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.