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Dragons show their courage under fire

Date

Phil Gould

Sometimes you witness the battling team pull off the upset victory and all you can do is stand and applaud. Such was my admiration for the courage of St George Illawarra in their hard-fought 18-10 win over Cronulla in Wollongong yesterday.

Courage comes in many forms. Playing tough, getting up when you are hurt, chasing when you are tired and never giving up.

It also comes in the form of taking on a challenge, changing your mindset, forcing yourself to play football outside your comfort zone, trusting your own ability and the talents of those around you.

The Dragons did all this yesterday. There is an old saying, along the lines of, ''If nothing changes, then nothing changes.'' The Dragons changed yesterday; and all for the better.

It was an outstanding game. Both teams were tremendous and contributed equally to a wonderful afternoon of entertainment. We saw ferocious battles in the trenches, backs-to-the-wall goal-line defences, scintillating ball movement and moments of breathtaking individual skill.

Best of all, we saw the unexpected. Too often these days league matches are simply a repetition of the same things we saw the week before. Yesterday's game had a completely different vibe right from the opening whistle. I put this down to the aggressive and free-spirited attitude the home side took into the contest.

Up until yesterday, the Dragons had been widely criticised this season for their uninspiring and largely unsuccessful attacking capabilities.

They had scored fewer points than any team in the NRL. They had become renowned for stodgy, miserly football, with priority given to ball control, kicking game and dominating field position. Despite having the fourth-best defence in the league they had dropped to 11th on the premiership ladder and coming into yesterday's match were in danger of dropping further behind the top eight teams.

Yesterday they opened proceedings with a brilliant display of passing, rapid ball movement, offloads and second-phase football. We saw flick passes, round-the-corner passes, no-look passes, inside passes, long passes and overhead passes.

Mind you, all these attacking raids only produced one try in the first 40 minutes, thanks in no small part to some outstanding Sharks defence; but you could sense a real excitement and togetherness about the Dragons players as they fought to keep their season alive.

Whilst they only scored the one try during this period, it was important in that it was the first try of the game. They had the lead. From there they were able to use their greatest strength, their defence, to get them home. The Dragons fought valiantly to protect their points and were never headed at any stage of the contest.

The second half saw the Sharks mount periods of sustained pressure on the Dragons' goal line but could only breach the home team's defence on one occasion. Some of the Dragons racked up huge tackle counts in the process. Mitch Rein (48 tackles), Dan Hunt (40), Dean Young (39) and Beau Scott (37) led the way in a stoic display of resilience.

The Dragons, as a team, effected 355 tackles to the Sharks' 274. The Sharks enjoyed 32 play-the-balls within 20 metres of the Dragons' goal line compared to the Dragons only having 15 such opportunities at the Sharks' end of the field.

On these statistics alone the Sharks had enough quality ball to win two games. It's not as though the Sharks played badly either. They showed great composure when it was needed and really came after their opposition to get the win.

The Sharks had their own heroes in this match as well. Lock Wade Graham defied injury to produce another powerful display and was close to man of the match despite being on the losing team. The Sharks forwards were strong. Halves Jeff Robson and Todd Carney were creative and dangerous all afternoon.

That's what made this Dragons win all the more praiseworthy. They beat a quality team to get the premiership points they so badly needed.

Quality game. Great entertainment. Thanks, gentlemen.

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