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By Chris Kennedy, National Correspondent

St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale says he was delighted to bag his second hat-trick of his career but it wouldn't have come without some sublime playmaking from his skipper Gareth Widdop – a man Nightingale believes is now remembering just how good he is.

Nightingale was on the end of some special Widdop playmaking in a 28-6 win against the Tigers; the highlight was arguably a stunning right-to-left spiral cut-out pass but a pinpoint cross-field chip kick was almost as impressive.

Widdop, along with halves partner Benji Marshall, was pilloried in both regular and social media during season 2016 as the Dragons attack outscored only wooden spooners Newcastle.

But those days seem a distant memory as the second-placed Dragons head the competition for points scored and points differential after five rounds of 2017.

"He's going great, he's got a lot of ability and he's remembering how good he is," Nightingale said of the England international.

"Halves cop a lot of scrutiny and are under a lot of pressure to control the team and he's doing a great job of that." 

Nightingale said the quality of players around Widdop had also helped to take the pressure off him with fullback Josh Dugan in commanding form, hooker Cam McInnes a revelation at his new club and halfback Josh McCrone providing a steady hand.

"All those players in the spine are helping Gareth with his role and enabling him to focus on what his strengths are," Nightingale added.

His own three-try effort was certainly a pleasing effort for the veteran winger.

"We made the most of our opportunities and managed to get some really good ball in that first half," he said. 

"It led to a few tries and I'm very excited, I love scoring tries as every player let alone wingers do so very excited to get a first half hat trick and capitalise on some of the opportunities that we had.

"The most pleasing thing out of that whole game was the fact that we defended really well then when we did get down their end through building pressure we were able to capitalise most times.

"We stuck to our defensive patterns and managed to build pressure through that and then get across the line when we did find those opportunities. We have some really good plays to open up some space for myself and 'Laf' (centre partner Tim Lafai)."

Nightingale said the Dragons weren't getting too carried away with the wins they was banking (four from five so far, and three in a row now for the first time since a six-game winning run at the start of 2015) but were more pleased with the fact the effort and performances have been consistent.

"The last few weeks haven't been the prettiest wins with Cronulla, Warriors and [the Tigers] game but I think the fact that our defence has held strong," he said.

"We haven't conceded a lot of points is the reason we won our games and the opportunities we have had we've capitalised on where in the past we probably not capitalised on those opportunities."

This article first appeared on

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St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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