Top Dragon backs cannonball crackdown

RUGBY LEAGUE

St George Illawarra star Trent Merrin has endorsed the NRL's tough new stance on the cannonball tackle as he tries to resurrect his bid for a maiden Australian jumper.

The State of Origin representative was left devastated late last season when he was the victim of the third man in tackle, which targets the legs of a ball carrier held up by other defenders. Now he is set to thrive under the crackdown.

The 24-year-old tormented the Tigers in a round-one hiding and provided a glowing reference for the new edict before the Dragons head to Auckland amid a cyclone warning in New Zealand.

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"I was damaged by it and it was pretty shattering to miss out the back-end of the season due to [a cannonball tackle]," said Merrin, whose bid for World Cup inclusion ended after his injury against the Broncos in August.

"It takes that out of the game, which is a bit more safer for the players. It's harder to put every player down now without the third man in. It's definitely going to speed the game up a bit more, and we're adjusting to it really well."

The Dragons opted to field a mobile pack against the Tigers, starting manufactured front-rowers Jack de Belin and Tyson Frizell at the coal face. The move worked wonders on a warm Sydney afternoon, but St George Illawarra's lack of size is likely to be tested by a monster Warriors pack.

Matt Elliott has opted for Sam Rapira and Ben Matulino as his starting props, and Merrin warned his teammates, minus the injured de Belin (corked thigh), to expect a torrid time through the middle.

"They're a big, physical team and we have to get amongst it from the get-go to set the standard," Merrin said.

"They're big and they're going to test us in the middle and we've got to hold our own. It's a massive battle through the middle."

St George Illawarra's marquee recruit Gareth Widdop also knows all too well about the Warriors' threat from the back via English international teammate Sam Tomkins.

The fullback was quiet in his NRL debut as the Warriors stumbled against then wooden-spoon favourites Parramatta, but will make his home debut at the cauldron-like Eden Park.

"[Tomkins] is a great player," Widdop said. "I think the Warriors will be looking to make up for last week's performance. I'm sure he'll be fired up ready to play.

"He has got a lot of skill and is quite small, but he is very strong. The more time he plays with the combinations and the more NRL he plays, the better he'll become."

The Dragons have been something of a bogey side for the Warriors, having not lost to them since 2007.

Despite expecting to be confronted with a "massive atmosphere" at Eden Park, Merrin was happy the noise surrounding St George Illawarra's bleak preseason had quietened after round one.

"I think we always had the confidence and belief in ourselves. It was good just to shut everyone else up," he said.

"It was more to prove we know what we're doing and we went out against the Tigers and produced the goods.

"That sort of monkey is off our back now."

The Dragons trained strongly at Kogarah before jetting out for New Zealand on Friday. Sam Williams and Bronson Harrison will play for the injured Michael Witt and de Belin.

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