Cooper says Dragons’ attack ready to click
St George Illawarra star Matt Cooper says the Dragons are not even thinking as if they are playing Canberra in Canberra on Sunday. The 33-year-old veteran centre says his teammates are just preparing to play a game of football and aren't focusing on who they are playing... or where.
It is an understandable attitude considering the Dragons haven't won in Canberra since back in 2000, not long before the Sydney Olympic Games. Those Games and three more Olympics have come and gone since then, but still no joy for St George Illawarra in the nation's capital.
In fact, there has hardly been any joy anywhere for the Dragons against the Raiders during that time. They have won only one of their past 15 clashes against Canberra at all venues.
Every time the two teams play, the lopsided head-to-head count in Canberra's favour is brought up in the media, but highlighting it doesn't seem to change anything. The trend continues.
And until it turns around, Dragons players like Cooper are going to have to keep answering questions from reporters keen to find out how heavily the record weighs on the players' minds.
"We haven't been talking about it," Cooper said, when asked about his team's frustrating lack of success against the Green Machine.
"We obviously haven't won down there for a long time, but we don't care who we're playing this week. We just want to get out there and play some footy, because we were disappointed with the way we played in the Brisbane loss.
"We want to get out there and play the style we want to play, and we know we can play."
Everyone at the Dragons is singing off the same hymn sheet. Coach Steve Price described Canberra Stadium as having the "same dimensions as every footy field". Price added: "If we get down there and play how we can, then we can win."
The Raiders themselves are hardly a team in a position of strength at the moment. They are not an outfit that can simply point with confidence to their record against St George Illawarra and believe with all their might that it is going to happen again.
They are very shaky at the moment, just like the Dragons. Both teams have started the season poorly, with losses in each of the first two rounds.
Canberra went down 32-10 against Penrith at Centrebet Stadium in Round 1, and 36-0 against Gold Coast at Skilled Park in Round 2 – although the Titans franked that form when bettering the Se Eagles on Saturday. Meanwhile the Dragons were beaten 30-10 by premiers Melbourne at AAMI Park to open their season, and 22-6 by Brisbane at WIN Stadium last week.
Losing to the Storm in Melbourne is one of those things most teams have to get used to, but the St George Illawarra players were unhappy with themselves about the loss to the Broncos because the Dragons had so many opportunities to score in that game.
The Raiders-Dragons clash really is the ‘Desperation Stakes’ – even this early in the season.
"Yeah, both teams haven't won this year, and we're both desperate for a win," Cooper said. "But we're looking forward to getting down there and playing the way we know we can.
"It was disappointing not to have beaten Brisbane, especially when we had so many opportunities to score. We just didn't take the right options when we had those chances, so we're keen to get down there and get the win."
Against the Broncos, St George Illawarra made 29 more runs, missed 26 fewer tackles and gained 170 more metres but try as they might they could not get their attack to slip into a fast gear.
Canberra have one obvious advantage in that they haven't played at home yet this season, and will be really looking forward to getting out on to Canberra Stadium for this game.
Plus, the drama surrounding the early-season sacking of the club's star fullback, Josh Dugan, will have eased off enough for them to have been able to concentrate on preparing for this game without that being a distraction.
But, as disappointing as the Dragons have been so far this season, it's fair to say the Raiders have been worse. And at least the Dragons are going down there early in the season, and not mid-winter when it can be freezing and raining and opposition teams truly hate the trip.
It is really going to come down to which side can produce enough variety in attack – not seen so far from either outfit – to take advantage of whatever good field position they get.