Dragons' defence drilled down

RUGBY LEAGUE

St George Illawarra international Brett Morris has urged his traditionally slow-starting Dragons teammates to grind out an early-season win with an improved defensive effort against the Wests Tigers on Sunday.

After having their "pants pulled down" by the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield, the Dragons have worked overtime on not leaking a torrent of points, which blighted last season.

Perhaps the most embarrassing of those was when a fresh-faced 18-year-old, making his NRL debut on the SCG, engineered a stunning 34-18 triumph over the Red V late last year.

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Luke Brooks's second game at the top level also happens to be against the Dragons, this time at ANZ Stadium.

History suggests Brooks and the Tigers are well placed to take advantage of the Dragons' lacklustre record in first round games.

They've won only four of 11 opening round clashes since the start of the Nathan Brown era in 2003. Two of those wins came during Wayne Bennett's reign from 2009 to 2011.

"It's always important to get off to a good start," Morris said. "In the few early games you have to grind out some wins and they're important towards the back end of the year.

"We know it's important to start well and get a few wins on the board."

The Dragons have gone back to basics to stem a worrying slide in their defensive capabilities over the past 12 months.

"We know what they're capable of and we're going to have to turn up on Sunday and put in a full 80-minute performance," Morris said.

"We're yet to do that in the trials, but the good thing is we weren't playing for points.

"We played against Souths and they pulled our pants down there a bit. We weren't up to it, but we've worked really hard on [our defence] over the past couple of weeks to fix that up.

"Hopefully that shows on Sunday."

Thompson highlights warranted aggression

Dragons back-rower Joel Thompson has urged his side to embrace a pack mentality to ensure they won’t be out-muscled this season.

A meek performance against a powerful Rabbitohs’ Charity Shield side has upped the pressure on the Dragons ahead of their round one clash with the Wests Tigers.

The ease with which the Rabbitohs’ big men powered their way up the field has led some to point the finger at the forwards.

Thompson  was recruited by the Dragons to bring mongrel to the forward pack but the 25-year-old said all the Dragons’ big men need to embrace an aggressive mentality.

‘‘I just play my game and it is aggressive and that’s the type of player I like to be but I’m not out there to be the only enforcer,’’ he  said.

‘‘I think we’ve got a whole team full of enforcers if you want to look at it like that.

‘‘I wouldn’t say we were out-muscled [against the Rabbitohs], we just weren’t working together very well.

‘‘We were doing it on our own and the way we’ve been taught all pre-season is to work together.

‘‘We didn’t do that and that’s where we got found out a bit up through the middle.’’

Thompson expects his side to benefit from the tough audition against one of the competition’s biggest title contenders.

‘‘It was a good wake-up call for us,’’ Thompson said.

‘‘I daresay they’ll be a top four side again and we want to be a benchmark team and be up there in that top eight and be very competitive, so it was a good test for us.

While poor performances at the Auckland Nines and the Charity Shield may have Dragons’ fans thinking the worst, Thompson said a side with so many new faces needed time to gel.

‘‘It takes time with new players working together but come round one we should be right to go.

‘‘There’s no more excuses.’’

Comprehensive 24-page NRL guide inside Friday's Mercury.

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