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Dragons swap Soft Serve for concrete

Skipper Ben Creagh admits the Dragons' forwards had not hunted as a pack over the past 12 weeks. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
You hear it so often when a team racks up enough points to have the scoreboard attendant filing for overtime.

"What we were most pleased with was keeping the guys we just towelled up to one measly try."

Given the Titans completed just eight of their 16 first-half sets, and have struggled to attack their way out of a paper bag in 2014, holding them to one measly try in a 34-6 scoreline really wasn't that big of a deal. 

But the way the Dragons did so kind of is.

Greg Bird is still counting his ribs after NSW teammate Josh Dugan flattened him with the type of ball-and-all hit that would've made his mother dizzy.

Will Matthews belted his former teammates, knocking them down like they were rodents in a Whac-A-Mole arcade game. 

Joel Thompson monstered anything that came near him, well and truly earning the post-match birthday cake headed the freshly turned 26-year-old's way.
 
Across the board the Red and Whites muscled up without the ball, hustling and bustling the Titans with their line speed, ensuring a battered and bruised Gold Coast outfit knew exactly who they were facing off against.

"There were four of five big shots out there today, and it's really good to see that intent in the defence and it really pumps the team up as well," says veteran Jason Nightingale.

"Will Matthews got one, all the forwards got involved. Doogs got one which he loves. It was good to see that sort of intent in our defence.

"There has been a step up in that physicality from certain people. Guys like Jack de Belin and Will Matthews, they pull off hits like that every week. But Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin were joining in today and Joel Thompson too, he was really getting stuck in and forcing errors.

"And when you really jam in on them on a number of occasions and can stick it to them, you get plenty of confidence once you get the ball back."

Sunday's defensive showing was a far cry from the marshmallow efforts being produced midway through the year, when the Roosters, Bulldogs and Eels not so much marched as strolled up the Dragons' middle easy as they liked, piling on an average of 36 points across three dreadful losses in the process. 

Skipper Ben Creagh doesn't shy away from the fact the Dragons had gone, in the words of dumped coach Steve Price, "soft". Rather he uses it as an indicator of just how far St George Illawarra's pack has come in three-and-a-bit months.

"We did cop a lot of flack earlier in the season but a lot of it was warranted I thought," says Creagh.

"We were playing pretty soft at times, we weren't playing tough footy like a forward pack should play." 

"But I think the last 12 weeks we've consistently played tough footy and backed up our defence and backed up our attack week to week which is what you want from a young forward pack." 

Ask Creagh, the eldest of a Dragons pack with an average age of 24, whether his young charges were rattled by the criticism and there's no doubt. 

"I'm sure they were," confirms Creagh. "As young guys you probably do read the paper and watch TV a bit too much with people who do have opinions on players' performances. 

"Older players like me don't really read into it too much but they've done a great job of turning it around and to be performing how they are right now."

Should the Dragons complete their remarkable redemption – from a share of 13th in mid-May to a sneaky finals spot that remains a possibility after Sunday's win – it'll be down to the defensive fire they've rediscovered. 
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