St George Illawarra have bounced back from last week's defeat to orchestrate a dominant all-round game to beat the Warriors 22-10 in round two of the Holden Women's Premiership at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
The Dragons clicked into gear after their first performance as a side together last week ended in a 30-4 loss to the Broncos.
Honey Hireme and Jessica Sergis starred for the Red V in the must-win encounter in front of 16,274 fans, with the result confirming Brisbane as the first side to progress to the inaugural grand final on September 30 following their 14-4 victory over the Roosters on Friday.
But their grand final opponents will come down to next week's final round with all three teams – the Dragons, Roosters and Warriors remaining in contention.
"They did themselves proud," Dragons coach Daniel Lacey said after the clash.
"They've probably played their whole careers trying to impress someone, get somewhere, and do things they've been told they can't do.
"I've given them the opportunity and they took it. I've also said to them that's one win and onto next week now. We were good for the run last week and even better for the run after two games."
The Dragons lost Sam Bremner to a foot injury pre-game but jumped out of the blocks to race to a 12-0 lead inside six minutes with long-range tries down the left edge through Shakiah Tungai and Honey Hireme.
NSW Country representative Tungai latched onto an Apii Nicholls pass to race the length of the field against the run of play, before a late offload from Hannah Southwell enabled Hireme to weave past Nicholls and dive over under the posts.
Hireme was enormous for the Dragons in Bremner's fullback spot to finish the game with 192 running metres and six tackle busts to terrorise the Warriors, a number of whom she plays alongside with the Kiwi Ferns at international level.
The Warriors had their chances to strike back with St George Illawarra reduced to 12 players in the opening half with Keeley Davis earning the first ever sin-binning in NRLW history for a professional foul.
But Luisa Avaiki's side failed to take advantage with Alice Vailea losing the ball over the line and Langi Veainu denied by a one-on-one Sergis try saver.
"We went away from what we wanted to achieve in terms of our momentum and building pressure," Avaiki said of the Warriors' performance.
"We were impatient at times today, especially in the middle. We needed to compose ourselves and be patient in those key areas."
The Red V extended their lead to 18-0 with interchange playmaker Mel Howard providing a deft kick for Rikeya Horne to latch onto the ball and step her way over the line.
It took a piece of luck for the Warriors to get on the board midway through the second half with a Sarina Clark cross-field kick bouncing perfectly for Racquel Anderson-Pitman to dive on the ball in-goal.
But the afternoon belonged to the Red V late with Sergis showing the class that saw her represent NSW in 2016, the centre breaking three tackles to charge over on the right edge.
Match: Dragons v Warriors
Round 2 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
The Warriors struck late with a try through Clark to make it 22-10 and they mounted one last raid down the left hand side which was shut down by a superb cover tackle by Sergis.
"That's character, it's a whole new competition and these girls need to set what the boundaries are, what the expectations are," Lacey said of Sergis' performance in both attack and defence.
"You know you're in good shape when you're defending for each other."
The Dragons will now need to beat the Roosters and hope the Broncos beat the Warriors next week to advance into the grand final.
Likewise the Warriors will need to defeat the Broncos to book their place for a re-match with the Queensland-based club a week later.
The Sydney Roosters could force their way into grand final calculations with a big win over the Dragons in the final round.