St George Illawarra Dragons coach Paul McGregor has demanded his team be more physical in defence when they face Brisbane Broncos in the opening match of the Telstra Premiership at Jubilee Oval on March 8.
The Dragons had their final trial hit-out in the Charity Shield against South Sydney Rabbitohs at Mudgee and after dominating the opening 20 minutes they fell away to lose 22-18.
McGregor said four blown scoring opportunities, including three disallowed tries to winger Jason Nightingale, proved costly but it was the defence he was most concerned about after similar problems in last weekend’s match against Hull FC.
Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook caused headaches for the Dragons around the ruck and had a 50-metre run out of dummy half which led to a try for back-rower Angus Crichton, while five-eighth Cody Walker also made a long-range break.
“The big lesson tonight is they were a little bit more physical than we were and dominated the play-the- ball area a bit quicker than we did, and that is what we have got to work on in the next 10 days,” McGregor said.
“We have got to be physically more dominant as a side come round one. They got us around that scrum line where they generated a play the ball and took that short side on a few times, and got some metres on us.”
Fullback Matt Dufty was again one of the stars, while Ben Hunt was a run threat on the right side of the Dragons attack in his second match since joining the club.
“Our halves played 80 minutes, which is nice, as did Duft out the back,” McGregor said.
“He certainly causes the opposition some grief with his speed and he is getting a better tactical understanding and that combination with Gareth [Widdop] and Benny will grow over a period of time.
“It is nice to have that extra threat because of his speed and ball-playing ability. At times, we used it a little too much so we have got to get that balance of the power and shift right.
“It is going to take a little bit of time with the combinations with our attack but we created four more opportunities we didn’t score points off.
"We need to score them and execute our finish better.”
McGregor said the visit to Mudgee, where the Dragons will play Canberra on May 20, had been beneficial and his squad will be at full strength for the opening round against the Broncos.
“We have come through unscathed again,” he said. “We have done a lot of community work which is good, we have got around to 16 schools in the last four days and visited some hospitals, and we are going home all healthy.”