Burton dazzles in 11th-hour Origin audition as Flanagan says Dragons ‘so bad you’ve got to laugh’

Matt Burton dazzled in an 11th-hour audition to be part of Michael Maguire’s first NSW squad as the Bulldogs embarrassed a woeful Dragons with a near point-a-minute second-half blitz on Thursday night.

Burton, who is in the frame for the Blues five-eighth position, one of the most contentious positions for Maguire’s game one selection, was near his best as Canterbury piled on 38 unanswered points in the second half for a 44-12 win at Accor Stadium.

Dragons centre Jack Bird was given the green whistle and wheeled from the field in agony on a medicab after his ankle was caught under Bronson Xerri in a tackle in the dying moments of the first half. He was sent for scans on Thursday night to assess the extent of the injury.

But the night belonged to Burton and the Bulldogs, who overcame a six-point half-time deficit to thump their bitter rivals to start Indigenous Round.

Asked about Burton’s suitability to Origin, Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo said: “He’s going a lot better. But the sky’s the limit for him.

“If he puts it all together, it’s not going to be a debate if he’s going to be in that team. But he’s done a fair the last couple of weeks. He’s put himself in the frame for that team. I’m sure if he gets an opportunity, he’ll grab it with both hands.”

The Bulldogs celebrate a Jacob Kiraz try.

The Bulldogs celebrate a Jacob Kiraz try.Credit: Getty

Burton racked up 20 individual points with two tries and six goals as Jaeman Salmon and Jacob Kiraz also bagged second-half doubles in the Bulldogs’ most comprehensive performance of the Ciraldo era.

St George Illawarra’s NSW State of Origin hopeful Zac Lomax was sin-binned in the second half as the Bulldogs racked up seven tries in 32 minutes after the break.

Having dominated the first half, St George Illawarra held a 12-6 lead after Bulldogs winger Josh Addo-Carr stepped on the sideline as he planted the ball right on the stroke of the half-time siren.

But without Bird and Hame Sele (shoulder) in the second half, the Dragons produced one of the most insipid displays of the season, spared the ignominy of conceding a point a minute when Burton’s last-minute conversion attempt was waved away.

St George Illawarra coach Shane Flanagan joked the last time he was in the Accor Stadium media centre he was celebrating a premiership with the Sharks, quipping “how things have changed”.

“It’s so bad you’ve got to try to laugh about it,” Flanagan said. “The two halves were so different. I thought we were really good in the first half and if we continued to do that, we’d win the football game. It’s a credit to them, they did exactly what we did in the first half.

“If I could put my finger on exactly [what’s going wrong], I would fix it. There’s a number of things I’m thinking about why. Maybe we’re squeezing the lemon on a couple of them. But you can’t do it in one half and not the other half.

Zac Lomax is penalised for tackling Jake Turpin in the air.

Zac Lomax is penalised for tackling Jake Turpin in the air.Credit: Getty

“It was just a complete 360 in the second half. We have to address what happened in the second half.”

It was the fourth heavy loss for the Dragons this year after conceding massive scores to the Roosters (60 points), Cowboys (46) and Dolphins (38) in the first 12 rounds of the season.

Lomax was lucky not be sat down for second stint when, within 30 seconds of returning to the field, he tackled Jake Turpin in the air chasing a Ben Hunt kick.

“I think we’ve been building to that,” Ciraldo said. “We had a couple of tough losses, but within those losses we were doing a lot of things right. I thought the second half it clicked for us.

“We played with a bit of freedom once we got going in the second half. We’ve got some class players and we were able to get them the ball.”

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