BY CURTIS WOODWARD
They are 3-1 to start 2017, boast the season’s top points scorer, The81stMinute’s Steele Sports Medal leader and three of the top scoring fantasy players to begin the year but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a St George Illawarra Dragons fan willing to break the shackles and dance from the rooftops just yet.
Oh, they’ve also scored more points than any other side in the competition. Getting nervous Dragons fans?
Well you shouldn’t. This is a proud, mighty, big red V and there’s no reason to doubt them now. The Saints are marching in once more.
Look at last weekend’s win over the New Zealand Warriors at Kogarah. The old Dragons would have lost that. The week before they outplayed arch rivals and defending premiers Cronulla at Shark Park. To put that win in perspective, the Sharks came out the following week and beat the impressive Parramatta Eels. The old St George Illawarra would have shown up to Kogarah and tripped over their own feet – a little like they did in round two against the Eels in Wollongong. But a week is a long time in rugby league, a fortnight is an eternity. That loss in Wollongong seems like an age ago.
It’s almost impossible to pump up a side on wins and losses alone after just four rounds but individually every player at the Dragons is now doing their job.
Michael Gordon and Luke Keary of the Sydney Roosters have made early claims to Buy of the Year but Dragons prop Paul Vaughan is right up there with them. After another MVP performance against the Warriors, Vaughan now leads The81stMinute Steele Sports Medal by three clear points and he’s an outside chance of scoring his first New South Wales State of Origin jumper.
“I don’t think I have played my best footy yet and that is one of the first things I told Mary [Paul McGregor] when I signed to the club. I said to him that I have got a lot of potential I haven’t tapped into yet,” Vaughan says.
Widdop: I don't like talking about 2016 – this is a new year we have changed things, have new players & there is a great vibe @ the club pic.twitter.com/4NZWGoZvvl— The Dragons (@NRL_Dragons) March 29, 2017
Then there’s captain Gareth Widdop, a man besieged by his own fans last year but now leads the NRL for points scored. His attack and his leadership have been outstanding thus far but it’s his defensive reads that would have McGregor smiling. He was involved in a pretty serious car accident prior to the Warriors game but calmly walked into the dressing rooms, put his gear on and played the house down.
“The car is written off,” – McGregor.
Jack de Belin is breathing fire, Cameron McInnes is tackling everything and the rest look like men possessed.
Some might say this is the early season form we always see from the Dragons. Play well for a few months and disappear quicker than a Jerry O’Connell television series.
The difference is the way they play in 2017 compared to previous seasons. This is a side that can and wants to play footy. Most points scored, sixth best defensive team.
So on to Sunday afternoon and a meeting with the horribly disfigured Wests Tigers. The Saints should beat these here Wests Tigers by a score if they’re serious about putting the demons firmly in the rearview mirror. They can only do it by winning the games they’re expected to win and fighting their guts out in the games they’re expected to lose. Wins will flow. That’s all any coach or fan can ever ask.
And if any match should drive the Dragons it’s the nightmare that was round two against Parramatta.
Coming off a massive first-up performance against the Penrith Panthers, they went to Wollongong expecting things to just happen. That performance should be the fuel in the engine for the rest of the season.
Bust your arse every week or get flogged. That should be their mantra. Fight or flight. A response to potential harm. Survival. It’s up to the Dragons whether they keep on fighting or get on flying.
These Dragons will fight.