Prior says 20 points is Dragons’ goal
St George Illawarra forward Matt Prior says the Dragons aren't getting carried away with one win – the same as they weren't hitting the depths of despair over three straight losses.
"Winning or losing, we don't let it distract us from what we're trying to do with our game," Prior said. "If we win, we try to build on that performance. If we lose, we just try to get things right the following week."
The Dragons opened the season with three straight losses, against premiers Melbourne (30-10), Brisbane (22-6) and Canberra (30-17), and that record heaped a lot of pressure on the team and their coach, Steve Price, whose future beyond this season was already uncertain.
They desperately needed a win in the local derby against Cronulla last weekend, and they got that in fine style, beating their neighbours 25-12 at Sharks Stadium.
Now, they must try to back that up with a good performance against Newcastle at WIN Jubilee Oval on Sunday. It will be only the second home game for the Dragons this season, after they played three of their first four games on the road.
Prior said that while the hat-trick of losses to start 2013 had inevitably dented the team's confidence, they never felt they were far away from a win.
"Yeah, it definitely takes a bit of pressure off us, getting the win, and we're all feeling good this week," Prior told NRL.com. "But we hadn't been playing too badly. We'd been getting into good positions, but we just weren't scoring the tries.
"That was the key to our disappointing results, the execution. But against the Sharks the last pass was sticking, and we were supporting each other really well. Sometimes, it's just little adjustments that can make a lot of difference.
"Our confidence had been down a bit, but not because we doubted our ability. We just weren't executing as well as we would have liked to, and that was disappointing. We had to start getting that right.
"We beat the Sharks, but now we have to produce another good performance against the Knights. If we play like we did against the Sharks, we'll put ourselves in that game with a chance to win."
Defence was the enormous strength of the Dragons in the three years Wayne Bennett was coaching them, from 2009-11. Last season, when they missed the finals by finishing ninth, their defence hadn't deteriorated much. It was still the equal-fourth best in the competition.
But they scored the least amount of points in the competition.
The Dragons knew they had to spark their attack up this year, but it wasn't going to matter much if they still didn't defend well, and after conceding an average of 27.3 points in the first three rounds they knew they had to tighten up against the Sharks. They did that.
"If you're not defending well, it just puts more pressure on your attack," Prior said. "How we defended against the Sharks is the standard we want to keep up.
"The way it is in this competition, if you keep the opposition under 20 points you're a better than even chance of winning the game.
"Our video session after the Sharks game told us it was a good effort in defence, and we're just focusing on repeating that against the Knights and continuing to practice the things that work for us in attack."
The Knights are a good example of what Prior is talking about. They have conceded an average of 15 points per game this season, and have won three out of four. Their only loss came in their one away game so far, when Manly walloped them 32-0 at Brookvale Oval in Round 2.
Prior said the Dragons know it's going to be tough up front against a Knights forward pack that includes ex-Dragons and Sharks star Jeremy Smith and a rejuvenated Willie Mason.
Smith made 82 metres in 10 runs during his 52 minutes in the 28-12 win by the Knights over Canberra last weekend. He also came up with 25 tackles. Mason made 95 metres from 12 runs, and 16 tackles, in just 36 minutes.
Prior's figures against the Sharks compare very well with those. He made 99 metres from nine runs, plus 26 tackles, in 35 minutes.
"I'm happy with the way I'm playing," he said. "I'm getting to play more in the middle this year, which is good. I've moved around a bit in the last few years, playing some second row and centre, and I'm happier staying in the one spot."