The Knights are hopeful Ponga will play his first match of the season next week as their casualty ward overflows, a week before the NRL is poised to introduce an 18th man as a concussion substitute.
Missing Ben Hunt with a broken leg and Jack Bird through suspension, the Dragons finished a brutal game full of running to sit two points off table toppers Penrith after the first month of the season.
The turnaround since the Charity Shield mauling at the hands of South Sydney has been nothing short of stunning, but their toughest test will await against title heavyweights Parramatta next week.
Sims proved to be the matchwinner, first running onto an Adam Clune and then spoiling Green’s return to seal the Dragons’ third straight win.
“He’s got his physicality back both sides of the ball,” Dragons coach Anthony Griffin said of Sims. “Obviously his charge down turned the game and that’s an effort play. It’s good to see him in that form again.
“The Knights were really brave and had a lot of problems, but at this level you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do. They refused to lose in the second half. When push comes to shove we’re finding ways to win games. Today was another step for us as a group.”
Mann snapped a 30-metre field goal only seconds before half-time to hand Newcastle a 7-6 lead at the break.
No-frills Newcastle forward Josh King, who worked in the mines during his electrician apprenticeship, was the unlikely source of first points in the second half before the St George Illawarra onslaught.
“I think the members, sponsors, fans can rightfully walk away disappointed with the scoreboard, but you can’t walk away disappointed with the character,” O’Brien said. “I’ve seen teams beaten by 40 or 50 this week that haven’t gone through the resilience this team has gone through. I am proud of them.”
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 22 (Tariq Sims 2, Trent Merrin, Brayden Wiliame tries; Zac Lomax 3 goals) defeated NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 13 (Gehamat Shibasaki, Josh King tries; Tex Hoy, Mitchell Barnett goals, Kurt Mann field goal) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Referee: Peter Gough. Crowd: 21,770.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.