ST GEORGE Illawarra have already claimed two major scalps in their 2-1 start to the season and, with a favourable draw, will have a golden opportunity to solidify their place in the top four over the next six weeks.
Wins over genuine title-contenders Penrith and Cronulla in the opening three rounds see the Dragons sitting in third spot on the ladder at the front of a peloton chasing the two remaining undefeated teams Melbourne and the Roosters.
They’ll host the out of sorts Warriors at Kogarah on Sunday ahead of clashes with a Tigers outfit, still reeling from the Tim Simona scandal and the sacking of coach Jason Taylor, and Manly who’ve been hit and miss so far this season.
Most tellingly, the trip to the Northern Beaches in round six will be the furthest the Dragons will have to travel from their Wollongong training base over the opening 10 rounds. They face the Warriors in Auckland in round 11 with their first bye to follow in round 12.
It’s in stark contrast to a horror draw to start the 2016 season that saw them log more than 12,000 kilometres over the first nine rounds.
They opened their season against Melbourne at AAMI Park in round one and endured a horrendous sunshine swing in Queensland between rounds four and six that saw them take on 2015 grand finalists’ North Queensland and Brisbane away before briefly returning to Wollongong and then traveling to the Gold Coast to play the Titans.
The Dragons haven’t managed consecutive wins since round 15 and 16 last season and haven’t won more than that on the trot since winning six games between rounds three and eight of 2015.
That run had them sitting at the top of the table at the midpoint of the season and they’ll be looking to put themselves in a similar position this year given their run.
It’s easier said than done given the wildly fluctuating fortunes of most teams over the opening three rounds. Having failed to back up their impressive round one win over Penrith seven days later, skipper Gareth Widdop said his side need to start stringing some wins together after outlasting Cronulla in a torrid encounter on Sunday.
“We want to back it up each and every week and getting the two points, especially a local derby, we should take a lot of confidence out of that and we’re at home again this week,” Widdop said.
“It’s vitally important that we do what we did [against Cronulla] really well and fix up a few of the things we need to work on.
“After last week [against Parramatta] we wanted to get back to doing the tough stuff and the simple things well and I thought the forwards did that early on in the game and got us going forward.
“Local derbies are always tough and physical and we knew it was going to be a tough challenge.
“The pleasing thing was the defence on our try-line was great and our scramble was great.
“We don’t want to put yourselves in that position too often but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and we can still improve for next week.”