Best of all time? Poore marvels at Dragons' rise
If anyone appreciates just how big a mismatch this Friday night’s clash between premiers St George Illawarra and the struggling Parramatta Eels appears to be, it’s injured Eels prop Justin Poore.
The 26-year-old, currently sidelined with a nagging knee injury, was a member of the Dragons’ outfit that stormed their way to the minor premiership in their first season under Wayne Bennett in 2009 and has been a keen observer of their progress since.
In fact, so dominant have the Dragons become over the past 18 months – having won 29 of 38 matches since the start of 2010 – that they are on track to go down as the greatest club side of the past 40 years.
Not since 1992-93, when Brisbane was the competition benchmark, has any club won back-to-back premierships, while it is 15 years since Manly claimed three consecutive minor premierships. (Melbourne had their titles stripped for salary cap indiscretions between 2007-09.)
However, the Broncos were never as dominant during the regular season and the Sea Eagles won just one grand final during their three consecutive grand finals between 1995-97 – leaving the Dragons with a unique opportunity to secure their standing in the NRL record books.
Poore was quick to back his Parramatta team-mates to cause what would be one of the upsets of the season but admitted it would take a huge effort for the 2009 grand finalists to turn the tables on the competition front-runners this weekend.
“St George Illawarra have become one of those benchmark teams like the Storm and the Broncos were at their peak,” Poore said. “They’re a good side all around the park and it’s a tough ask to play them – they’ve clearly been the best team over the past three years. They’ve won a comp, they’re consistently a good side and they consistently turn up to play footy.
“But the thing about them is – I don’t think people really appreciate just how impressive their performances have been this season. All teams get up for the Dragons game. I don’t think anyone needs to be told, ‘this is a tough game this weekend’.
“The NRL has always been a comp where you have to turn up ready to play each week but especially the Dragons, as we’ve seen, they’re not blowing teams out of the water – they’ve had to play even harder every week because teams get up to play them.
“It’s fairly amazing, really.”
Asked if he gave his Eels side any chance of springing an upset, Poore replied: “Yeah, I do… even coming off the loss on the weekend, the boys still ground it out quite hard and we’re slowly getting to where we want to be.
“I see how hard the Parra boys work every day and I feel for them. But to beat the Dragons you’ve got to turn up on the day and just try your hardest. You can’t control the scoreboard in footy, if you do your job that’s all you can be asked to do and if the players do that they’ll be in with a shot.”
Poore said that finding a way to break down their brick wall defence was the key to beating the Dragons – but that’s easier said than done with statistics supplied by NRL Stats showing that, if anything, they just keep getting better.
Like last season, Bennett’s men lead the competition for fewest points conceded, fewest tries conceded and line-breaks conceded but have, incredibly, boosted their averaged offloads from 10.6 per game last year (just 14th in the NRL) to 14.9 in 2011 (1st) without adding any more errors to their game (still ranked first for fewest made).
Conversely, Parramatta rank 15th in the NRL in defence, having conceded an average 24 points in their 11 games.
“They (the Dragons) are just a unit, they work together,” Poore observed. “They’ve got a frustrating defensive system and it works… but as I said, nothing is impossible.
“We’ve just got to go out there ready to do our job and let the scoreboard take care of itself.”
Poore has been a notable absentee from the Parramatta pack this season after complications from pre-season knee surgery saw him forced back under the knife. But he said he was hopeful of a return in the next four to eight weeks.
“It’s frustrating because it feels like it’s never going to come good but I’ve been slowly improving since the second surgery and I start running on Friday, so that’s where the real test kicks in,” he said.
“If it goes smoothly I’d hope to be back within the month but I don’t want to rush anything because I don’t want to go back to stage one. That’s what I’m most scared of.
“I don’t want to have to get more surgery, so for the sake of an extra two or three weeks it will give me an extra two to three years on my career.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry.”