The leaders of the pack...
For so long the Dragons were regarded as having a soft underbelly when the game got rough.
This year under Wayne Bennett they are the early competition leaders and setting the benchmark with starchy, bone-rattling defence, which has conceded just 53 points in five games - the best in the NRL.
Keep that up, and two converted tries could get them the win every week.
Ben Creagh, now in his sixth year at NRL level, has been playing the house down along with his fellow forwards - laying the foundations for the Dragons attack through defence. He attributes the change to many things including lack of injuries, an attitude adjustment and of course the new coach .
“Wayne’s simplified a lot of things for us in defence. We have focused on our defence and toughening up, I think that’s shown up in our games so far,” said Creagh.
As a team they have missed only 105 tackles which places them fourth in the league (the NRL average is 139).
Whilst Bennett has worked hard on the defence - the attack is also beginning to click.
Although they have yet to rack up big scores, their attack could still be considered dominating, especially that of the forwards.
As a team the Dragons have gained more running metres than any other in the NRL with 7,156m, second are the Rabbitohs over 500m behind with 6651m..
The Dragons have also completed the most sets with 159, suggesting the forwards are getting over the advantage line.
Creagh is aware of the influence the pack is having.
“Everyone’s come in and we’re playing really hard for each other, running hard and tackling hard. We’ve worked on our defence, focusing on keeping other teams out and we’re building our attack off of that.
“The forward pack is definitely having a large influence, we’re making the tackles and we’re moving forward, the front row has been very good. Jarrod Saffy and Jeremy Smith have looked great this year as has Mick Weyman; it’s a bit disappointing he won’t be there on Saturday (through suspension). We will miss him and the amount of runs he has been making for us, but Jarrod Saffy was playing pretty well before he was injured and I’m sure he’ll be ready to rip in.”
With the Dragons off to their best start in years, Creagh is feeling confident they can keep it up, but is aware early season hype means nothing if you’re not there at the end of September.
“We’re off to a good start for the first time in a long time. The forward pack is playing well and staying fit as well as having consistency in the halves. We’re not carrying too many injuries which is good, Coops (Matt Cooper) is the only one who has been out for a while.”
Creagh too, is feeling healthy and refreshed after spending a few seasons struggling with a combination of injuries.
“I am feeling good (touch wood) and I’m happy with my form I’ve even been able to score a couple of tries along the way.”
Creagh should be happy with his form and whilst he is loathe to talk himself up, commentators have been keen to suggest he may not look out of place in a sky blue jersey.
And why not? Creagh is leading his side in line breaks this season with four and is third at the club in tackle busts with 15 (though well behind team-mate Darius Boyd who leads the NRL with 42).
But perhaps the most outstanding statistic involves his run metres. Weyman has been setting the NRL alight with 709 run metres, second best for a forward behind the Panthers’ Petero Civoniceva, but it is Creagh who leads back-rowers with 638, averaging 8.5m per run.
“It’s a huge compliment to hear people talking about you like that but if it comes it comes, I’m just focused on the Dragons and making sure we are there at the end of the year.
“I’m enjoying playing off Benny Hornby and he’s responsible for a lot of those line breaks.”
Although not keen to talk rep footy, Creagh was happy to discuss this Saturday night’s match when the Dragons take on the Knights at WIN Jubilee Oval. The clash of forward packs has Creagh excited.
“Bloody oath it will be a good forward battle. Newcastle have a big and solid pack including Chris Houston, Danny Wicks, Ben Cross and Richie Fa'aoso. It’s going to be a big battle in the middle and I think the side who wins that will win the game.”
With over 20,000 fans showing up for the local derby a few weeks ago at Kogarah, hopefully the high-flying Dragons can attract a similar crowd for a battle which will be hard and tough, just the way the purists like it.