By Matt Encarnacion (NRL.com)
Seven weeks ago, then-Dragons coach Steve Price labelled his side as "soft."
Six weeks ago, then-Dragons coach Steve Price was sacked.
Five weeks ago, now-Dragons coach Paul McGregor got the caretaker job.
And in the 423 minutes of Red V football since, the Dragons have yet to concede a try in the middle of the field.
Call it Mary's midfield miracle. Or the Red Wall of Kiama. Or maybe even defence that isn't de-thing around the field. Call it what you want – just don't call them soft.
"They're the same people that played six weeks ago, when everyone wanted to say they weren't big enough or strong enough or physical enough. So they've stepped up as well, which allows the blokes on the edge to play like that," McGregor said post-game.
And the reason for the sudden change in the against column, for a string of good performances that now leaves them two points outside the top eight, are those words that would cut any pride football to shreds.
"No one likes being called soft, especially in a sport that we play in rugby league," said forward Trent Merrin.
"It's one of the toughest games out there. It hits home. But from the stat that we just talked about, we did take it personally. And it's something that we want to use as fuel and take forward."
St George Illawarra put forward arguably their most complete performance of the season on Monday night, recording a 24-12 victory that should've been bigger had the gale force winds not bent Gareth Widdop's attempts at goal at right angles.
And while it was McGregor's money men in Widdop, Benji Marshall and Josh Dugan that will go on the highlight reels, Merrin spoke for the rest of the forward pack when he unashamedly took credit for the brick wall in the middle of the field.
Asked how teams were being stopped from crossing the paint in the middle of the field, he deadpanned: "Front-rowers."
But even the bloke in the opposition coaching box noticed a palpable change in the team from the one that went down 28-24 in Melbourne 10 weeks ago.
"Their defence seems as though it's improved," Storm coach Craig Bellamy observed.
"But that's nothing against Steve [Price] either. Sometimes when a new coach comes in everyone seems to lift a little bit.
"It's a bit of a change in atmosphere. It puts everyone else on notice as well. They've been doing a pretty good job since that's happened, but that's pretty common."
Six weeks ago, the Dragons had the softest underbelly in the competition, and a lowly ranking to match it.
Six weeks on, and they're a win or two away from entering the competition elite.
Skipper Ben Creagh summed it up best: "You can tell on the field. We're backing up performances week to week.
"I know we had that tough loss against Penrith, but we were still in the game and that's how you've got to be playing to be in there with a shot at the end of the season.
"There's a lot of trust and a lot of belief as well, which is great."