One of the unsung heroes in the unbeaten St George Illawarra team is hooker Cameron McInnes, and coach Paul McGregor made sure the 24-year-old didn’t miss out on his share of praise after the 20-point defeat of Cronulla at WIN Stadium.
McInnes scored a slashing solo try in the 33rd minute when he spotted a small gap and sprinted past a couple of flat-footed Sharks defenders before leaving fullback Matt Moylan standing still and scoring in the right-hand corner.
In doing so he became the 12th player in the Dragons' starting 13 to score a try in opening six rounds of the Telstra Premiership season. The only one who hasn’t registered a four-pointer is prop James Graham.
McInnes dazzled the 17,882-strong Wollongong crowd with his sharp turn of speed and opportunistic instinct.
"At training he's quite quick. He does a lot of work but probably doesn’t get to expose himself a lot with the footy,"McGregor said.
Match: Dragons v Sharks
Round 6 -
Venue: WIN Stadium
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"Cam’s a person that the team needs. If you look at our spine we’ve got two guys in Gareth [Widdop] and Ben [Hunt] that like to play on the ball.
"You've got a fullback in Matt Dufty who is around the footy and you’ve got an unselfish player like Cam to give them the ball.
"So the balance is there and no-one is fighting over it. And when he sees an opportunity, like he did tonight, he can finish them off."
McInnes’ speed is not the only thing bringing a smile to McGregor’s face, as his team sits undefeated after six rounds. The fact his players can dig themselves out of any hole is a major fillip.
"It’s pleasing that we’re winning back momentum during the game. That’s the most pleasing thing tonight and we had no injuries," the Dragons coach said.
The same couldn't be said for the Sharks, who lost forwards Paul Gallen (knee), Andrew Fifita (knee), Wade Graham (hamstring) and Luke Lewis (hamstring/knee) on a demoralising night.
Despite the Sharks' misfortune, McGregor said his side had to find something at stages and they did. "The energy they need to show at important times and composure is there," he said.
That composure was on show after the Sharks had scored through Valentine Holmes and Ricky Leutele to claw their way back to 28-20 with 22 minutes to play and it was game on. The home side steadied and Jack de Belin stormed over from close range in the 64th minute to stretch the margin back to 14 points.
"Some individual brilliance got us over the line tonight more than team talent – it was more individual talent," McGregor conceded.
"The intensity and focus they have at the moment, not to be complacent or settling for anything but excellence, is real good. It’s about ‘we’ not ‘me’ in this team. They know if they put the team first they’ll get rewards individually."
Dragons skipper Widdop said the most consistent start to a season he’s ever enjoyed – and that includes his years with Melbourne Storm – was built around that selflessness.
"Just setting standards and at the moment we’re living them," he said. "We ask for best effort every week. Things don’t always go your way but if you’re working for your teammate and giving best effort, you’ll get rewards."
"This first six weeks it’s about team-first actions and we’re doing them really well at the moment. If we continue to do them then better things will come. We’re still on a learning curve but it’s a very pleasing start."
The Dragons can’t breathe easy yet. They face the undefeated Warriors in Auckland next Saturday and then a short turnaround – plus travel – back for the annual Anzac Day match against the Sydney Roosters.