By Matt Encarnacion (NRL.com)
Dragons forward Trent Merrin has revealed how taunts from Willie Mason during last year's clash inspired the Red V's strong start in Saturday's 12-4 victory over the Sea Eagles in Wollongong.
The former Knights prop delivered the ultimate sledge when he labelled the Dragons pack as "soft" during a match last season, and Merrin said he and his teammates took the comments personally.
"There was a lot of build up about Mason during the week and all the talk around that," Merrin told NRL.com.
"And especially the way we've been starting the last few weeks, it was poor on our behalf and we knew we had to build on that. We come out and did a great job starting the game."
While Merrin stopped short of saying they had used Mason's cutting remarks as motivation, the Penrith-bound prop did acknowledge that he was offended by the criticism.
"It wasn't a motivation, but when you get a player in the middle calling you soft in one of the hardest games in the world, you take it pretty personally," said Merrin.
"I think we knew we had a job there to do, but our main focus was on us and to get the win."
An enthusiastic Dragons side held the Sea Eagles to just one try for the match and received plenty of praise from coach Paul McGregor post-game.
"To the boys credit, that's 160 minutes of footy and they've only let two tries in the second halves. That's a credit to their want for each other," he said.
"Their goal line D was outstanding tonight. [The] inside pressure, our kick chase, just the enthusiasm, and the energy... it's a credit to the guys how well they defended.
"Defence is down to attitude and we certainly got that. And tonight I was very pleased in a lot of departments, but mainly about effort. We turned over a bit of ball in that second half, and we could've built pressure for that lead.
"But for them guys to keep fighting, when you look at manly, they throw a lot of footy at you. They go from side to side pretty quickly. And to defend that line and the one try they got was from a kick, that's a real credit to the guys."
Stand-in skipper Jason Nightingale said his side's big start set the platform for the victory.
"It came from the energy and the start. We've been talking about our start and we started really well," he said.
"We completed quite well and defended, especially them coming out of their own end with a lot of energy and I think our confidence built from that start we've got.
"We just carried on with it for as long as I've seen us defend solidly for 80 minutes. We've got a lot of work to do in certain areas of our attack. But most teams try and build on their defence and we're no different."
McGregor said his side would take confidence from their defensive performance into next week's clash with the unbeaten Knights in Newcastle.
"It was nice to get back to 50-50, that's for sure. We were 0-2 and to win our last two games, it's good to get back into that 50-50," he said.
"Newcastle are undefeated and they play well at home so it's a big challenge for our group. I'm sure they'll get a lot out of that game in our defence. We'll work again on our attack this week and get it right."