By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
"You need some decent forwards, you cats."
The cutting words of Willie Mason have come back to bite the last two opponents of the Dragons in their wins over the veteran prop's current club Manly and former club Newcastle.
After shutting out the Knights 13-0 on Saturday night, just one week after their eight-point win over the Sea Eagles, the Dragons completely avenged their embarrassment from their Round 26 clash against Newcastle last season where a miked-up Mason openly abused the Red V's forwards.
Whether a then off-contract Mason was trying to drum up interest for his own future is unclear, with the Dragons rumoured to have gone close to signing the former NSW and Australian representative. Regardless, Dragons forward Jack de Belin spoke of his pleasure in getting the wood over his more fancied opponents.
"Last week when we played Willie, he kind of went hiding a little bit and it was good to get that back over him because he kind of put us on blast last year. It was pretty embarrassing what actually happened with Willie," said de Belin.
"He was quiet all game last week and I can't really remember him saying too much so it was good to get it over him.
"I know a few of those Newcastle boys jumped on the back of his spray too and had a little giggle at our expense and that was on our minds as well - to keep them quiet and get the win."
To say Mason's words were on the Dragons' forwards minds is an understatement as de Belin added that he and his fellow teammates mentioned the outburst in the lead-up to their eventual third straight win.
With the Dragons tapping into their potential in recent times, de Belin said it was a matter of restoring the club's self-worth.
"We copped a lot of flak after the first couple of rounds, whether we deserved it or not didn't really matter. It hurt a lot of our prides and egos," said de Belin.
"Now we're starting to show our potential and what we can do, I feel like we have been muscling up and starting to put it over a few packs."
Meanwhile, de Belin was honoured to win the inaugural Alex McKinnon Cup – a now annual fixture between McKinnon's two former clubs - the Knights and Dragons.
Labelling it "a big occasion" for the Red V, de Belin – who is also a close friend of McKinnon's – was grateful for the opportunity.
It is well known that McKinnon and now-Knight Jack Stockwell played parts in the 24-year-old receiving a start at the Dragons - something the Cootamundra Bulldogs junior doesn't take lightly, before adding Alex's kind words is a testament to his character.
"I broke my ankle in Year 11 and failed to play footy the entire year. The next year I was just playing in St Gregory's first grade team and 'Macca' as well as Jack Stockwell spread the good word about me," said de Belin.
"The Dragons came and had a look at me and obviously it's worked out pretty well.
"[Alex is] selfless. He puts a lot of people before himself and he's an inspiration to us all through his courage and strength. A lot of the boys have a fair bit to do with Alex and most of us played alongside him as well. There's a long history there and just to have him around [in the sheds after the Knights game] was great."