THE Dragons are fast becoming the NRL’s entertainers, but veteran winger Jason Nightingale insists his side’s confidence has soared on the back of defence in their hot start to the season.
Nightingale scored his second career hat-trick against the Tigers on Sunday as the Dragons against cruised past the 20-point mark for the third time in five matches, a feat they could only manage in 24 games last season.
It sees the Dragons averaging a league-high 26 points, a stat that’s grabbed most attention given a lean past two seasons in the points for column.
The fact that only league leaders Melbourne have conceded less points has not grabbed the fans attention but Nightingale said that it remains the foundation of the Dragons 4-1 start to the year, including their impressive 28-6 win over the Tigers on Sunday.
“The most pleasing thing out of that whole game was the fact we defended really well and when we did get down their end through building pressure we were able to capitalise most times,’ Nightingale said.
“We stuck to our defensive patterns and were able to build pressure through that and to get across the line.
“We made the most of our opportunities and managed to get some really good ball in that first half and it led to a few tries.
“The best thing is the opportunities we have had [this year] we’ve capitalised on, where in the past we probably haven’t done that and lost a bit of confidence.
“I think the fact that we know we can score points now means as long as we defend we’ll win games.
“Especially the last few weeks haven’t been the prettiest wins against Cronulla, the Warriors and [the Tigers] but I think the fact our defence has held strong and we haven’t conceded many points is the reason we’ve won.
Nightingale proved the major beneficiary of skipper Gareth Widdop’s return to form on Sunday, with the English International having a hand in four of the Dragons five tries. It saw Nightingale notch his treble by halftime, and go halfway towards matching his entire 2016 tally, in the space of just 30 minutes, something he attributes to a collective effort to ease the pressure on their captain.
“He’s going great, he’s got a lot of ability and I think he’s remembering how good he is,” Nightingale said.
“I think it’s pretty difficult for halves. They cop a lot of scrutiny and they’re under a lot of pressure to control the team and he’s doing a great job of that.
“I think everyone’s taking the pressure off him. We’ve got Josh McCrone there with a very solid head, Cameron McInnes at hooker to get the ball to him when he needs it.
“I think all the players in our spine, Duges as well, are helping Gareth with his role and enabling him to focus on what his strengths are.”