​Dragons bring in top whistleblower to address penalty pile-up

VISITOR: Top referee Gerard Sutton oversaw a Dragons opposed session on Thursday. Picture: NRL Photos
VISITOR: Top referee Gerard Sutton oversaw a Dragons opposed session on Thursday. Picture: NRL Photos

DRAGONS coach Paul McGregor has taken a drastic step to address the ill-discipline that’s plagued his side over the last seven weeks, with top referee Gerard Sutton brought into to oversee Thursday’s opposed session in Wollongong.

It follows a run that’s seen the Dragons lose four players to the sin bin in their last five games, three of them for repeated infringements, with halfback Ben Hunt was dispatched 12 minutes into the second half of his side’s win over the Tigers on Saturday.

McGregor said in the post-match presser that he would make inquiries “through the proper channels,” after the Dragons conceded the first six penalties of the game.

Hooker Cameron McInnes was also marched in the Dragons heavy loss to the Eels two weeks ago after conceding a seventh unanswered penalty in the opening 25 minutes, while Jack de Belin copped 10 minutes against the Cowboys in round 19. 

The ill-discipline has been the common denominator in a run that saw McGregor’s men win one of six games before righting the ship against the Tigers last Saturday.

Veteran winger Jason Nightingale made no secret of the fact Sutton’s visit was an effort to remedy what’s increasingly become the Dragons Achilles heel.

“It’s obviously why [Sutton] and the boys were here,” Nightingale said.

“It was strictly business this morning because we have been giving away way too many penalties and we want to know why and how to fix it.

“At the start of the year we were doing everything [right], we were making our lines, we weren’t making high tackles and our discipline was in check.

“It’s about fixing those areas and making sure we can get back to where we were at, making our lines, not giving away offside penalties, not leaving, all those things we were doing well.

“We pride ourselves on that and we’ve gone away from it the last eight weeks and definitely getting the referees in to perhaps coach us a bit better will hopefully help us do a little less tackling.” 

Nightingale will return from a neck injury against Canterbury on Sunday, a match that could see the Dragons push the side who knocked them out the finals race last season closer to the wooden spoon.

Nightingale insisted a thirst for revenge isn’t driving his side, but said the Bulldogs remain an equally dangerous proposition this weekend.

“They’ve been playing like they’re having fun and you can tell when teams have loosened the reins and there’s a little less stress around the place,” Nightingale said.

“They know what they’re going to be doing in two weeks time and they knew what they were going to be doing this time last year. 

“It’s not their fault we played bad. You can’t say ‘you guys played too well so we need to get revenge on you’, it’s about us playing better and we need to play better.

“You don’t hold grudges against teams that play well on a day when it was meant to be about you. In a fairy tale world they would’ve laid down for us last year and we’d have walked into the eight but that’s not the way competitive sport works. 

“This weekend won’t be any different, they’re enjoying their footy, they’re playing without any inhibitions and they’re a dangerous team because of that.”