An embarrassed and still-smarting Dragons team insists they’re ready for revenge against a Penrith Panthers side that comprehensively shut them out 19-0 just five weeks ago.
Desperate St George Illawarra, 14th on the ladder after 15 weeks of competition, blame a lack of concentration for their inconsistent performances thus far in 2013 – and they believe they’ve learned their lessons, and they’re ready to stem the tide and mount a finals charge starting on Saturday at the foot of the mountains.
Their poor showing in Round 11 against the Panthers at Kogarah won’t be far from their thinking, though.
“It’s not far from the back of everyone’s mind – we’re not talking about it too much because we’ve got to worry about the game itself – but it’s definitely going to be incentive for us to have a big game on Saturday night,” Dragons prop Dan Hunt says of the to-zip loss.
“They came out and embarrassed us a little bit and we put in one of our worst performances, I think. We’ve just been talking about coming out, starting fast, playing tough football and making sure we do the little things and worrying about our job.”
Hard-working back-rower Jack de Belin echoes Hunt’s sentiments and warns his side is ready to get one back on Ivan Cleary’s men.
“Last time they played us they took us a little by surprise and they kind of blew us off they park,” de Belin told nrl.com.
“They ambushed us at our home ground and we’ll definitely be looking to do the same to get one back on them. We definitely need to take some revenge, I think.”
Hunt says the team’s aware of its shortcomings but is confident of mounting a comeback to climb up the ladder and mount a late surge for the semi-finals.
“There’s been some inconsistency, some lapses in concentration – the one game against Penrith was a bit disappointing – but the rest of the games the effort’s been there but [what’s let us down is] the execution in a few things and the lack of consistency,” Hunt says.
“As you look at the table we’re only two wins out of the eight… that’s why this game’s very crucial. We get this game, then the Roosters then the bye – it’s something we definitely need to win to keep our season alive.”
Prop Jack Stockwell, named in the starting line-up for this match, said while the Panthers, currently in 10th position, pose a number of problems, his teammates believed they were on the improve.
“It’s going to be another tough game, I reckon. They’re in good form and we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, try and get our plays on what we’ve been doing all week,” Stockwell says.
“We’ve had a good week so far and hopefully we ‘turn up’ – which I think we will.”
Dragons winger and New Zealand international Jason Nightingale says this match is the first step for his team in correcting a poor five-and-nine start to the season.
“It’s must-win again – you could say it every week,” Nightingale says.
“It’s a pretty big one with where we’re sitting on the table. If we don’t start making a move the season will be gone. It’s a pretty big game. We’ve got to start winning 70 per cent of our games and we might as well start this weekend and take a bit of pressure off and then focus on every game after that.”
“There are a couple of big games coming up… it’s time to lay it all on the line.”
Life won’t get any easier for the Dragons without suspended forward Trent Merrin, handed a one-match ban for punching in Origin II. The Dragons’ other Origin representatives Josh Dugan and Brett Morris, however, are expected to play. Leeson Ah Mau is tipped to join the run-on side with Will Matthews promoted to the bench.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are expected to be 1-17.
The Dragons will, however, appear very different to the one the Panthers beat more than a month ago. With Jamie Soward released by the club, utility Chase Stanley now fills the other playmaking position alongside Nathan Fien. It’s a vital position in which the Dragons need direction and competence, particularly in this match to be played on a wet track and in possible monsoon-like conditions. Teammates believe Stanley, a long time fill-in at NRL level, is ready to make his mark in the top grade and come of age in the halves.
“He’s been going great this week at training and has slotted in perfectly,” Stockwell says of Stanley.
“He’s a really good playmaker, he’s got good eyes looking out in front of him and running off him, I expect we’ll have a lot of go-forward. He loves running the ball and I expect that will be one of our strengths on the weekend.”
This week, though, Hunt is just focused on revenge against the Panthers: “They came out and dished us in the last game and we’ve got to do the same to them.”