WILL the real St George Illawarra Dragons please stand up?
World beaters in round one, also-rans in round two, Dragons fans can only wonder what their side will produce next week after shocking defending premiers Cronulla 16-10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday night.
Sharks fans will be asking the same question after watching a side that, in the first 40 minutes, looked a shadow of the one that hammered Canberra on the road last week and ultimately slumped to 1-2 start to their premiership defence.
The visitors led 14-0 at the break on the back of two tries to centre Euan Aitken and withstood a second-half onslaught from the hosts who were left with just two four-pointers to show for it on the scoreboard in the face of desperate Dragons defence.
After spending the bulk of the preseason focusing on his side’s attack, coach Paul McGregor said the performance was a return to their defensive roots.
“Certainly the toughness displayed and defending out try-line was pleasing,” McGregor said.
“In the second half they had 35-plus play-the-balls in our 20 and we only had six. That’s a really tough effort whereas last week our goal-line d wasn’t at it’s best so it’s a big improvement week to week. Our goal-line hadn’t really been challenged up until last week [against Parramatta] so last week was a good lesson.
“We always pride ourselves on our d, I’m sure every side does on that resilience on your try-line and certainly turning teams away gets them frustrated and gives you opportunities to attack at the other end.
“We we went set after set today. They’re kicking game put it in behind us and put us under a bit of pressure and that’s where we can improve a little bit, I think we kicked it dead six times so we’ve got to get that right.”
Luke Lewis and Edrick Lee each had tries in the space of four minutes midway through the second stanza and Kurt Capewell looked to have scored the equaliser in the 61st minute only to be held up.
It was as close as the hosts got with Widdop slotting his third penalty goal to take a six-point buffer into the final 15 minutes with his side good enough to defend it to the final bell.
After failing miserably to back up their round one thumping of Penrith in round two, the Dragons now face the challenge of stringing performances together when they face the Warriors at Kogarah this Sunday.
“It was a tough courageous effort at different times out there and that’s a really good way to build on your performance for next week,” McGregor said.
“[The Sharks] are a quality side, they’re the premiers and they certainly love playing at home so to come away with a win here is very pleasing and something where we can take a real good attitude into next week.
“We needed to learn from our loss last week which we did and now we need to double-up that toughness and that effort against a side that’s coming hard next week in the Warriors.”