A satisfied St George Illawarra Dragons coach Paul McGregor says his team's impressive efforts in a testing opening 40 minutes against Cronulla Sharks – which they lost 14-4 – was crucial in paving the foundations for their 20-16 win.
The Dragons were regularly pinned in their own half by a relentless and disciplined Cronulla Sharks outfit that made just a single error in the first stanza, so to go into the sheds trailing by just 10 was a great result.
With the wind at their backs in the second 40 and Cronulla's discipline disintegrating, the Dragons overhauled the deficit to move to a 2-0 season record.
"I was very happy with the first half," McGregor said after the game.
"We had no field position. The Sharks were 21 from 22, so they were playing some good footy. There was a fair breeze so we just needed to swing that possession around, get a bit of field position and keep the Sharks under 16 points which we managed to do tonight.
"It's great going forward. You don't come here to win pretty, you come here to scrap to win. We scrapped well tonight. It wasn't a great game to watch but Cronulla, fortunately, had 40 tackle breaks but didn't execute too much with the footy."
Arguably the most important 10 minutes of the contest came after the Dragons had finally claimed the lead for the first time midway through the second half only to see winger Jason Nightingale sin-binned for a professional foul.
The Sharks kicked two points from the infringement and didn't get back in attacking range the whole time Nightingale was off.
"During that period, the boys handled it really well," McGregor said.
"For us, it's maintaining an 80-minute game. Last year we were very good over 40 minutes for the whole year, we were good early for 10 or 12 weeks for 80 minutes then we dropped off. It's just about us being consistent week-to-week. The boys have got the right attitude which is around belief.’’
Skipper Gareth Widdop agreed that trailing by just 10 at half time was a positive.
"That first half everything went against us and to the boys' credit we went in at half time at 14-4," he said.
"We just had to be resilient [while down to 12 men]. I thought we were really good there, a man down.
"We worked hard over the pre season and tonight it showed, the boys' effort for each other, everyone competing for each other. You need to do that when you come to a place like this."
Match: Sharks v Dragons
Round 2 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
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The Dragons only try of the first half – which turned out to be a critical one – came when winger Nene Macdonald somehow latched onto a Widdop wide chip, contorted his body and grounded it in-goal – with most of his body suspended over the touch-in-goal line – in what will no doubt go down as one of the tries of the year.
"He had a very good night, Nene," McGregor said.
"We've always cheered his talent but now his work ethic is starting to meet his talent so to finish off a movement like that with no room and get the ball down was pretty special. If he keeps on the right track, he could do what he needs to do in footy which is reach the top. He's a very good player."