Former NSW and Australian winger David Williams has heaped praise on new teammate Brenton Lawrence for the job he has done in taking the Sea Eagles forward this season.
Statistics show that the Sea Eagles, who have five wins from their first seven games, have been dominant in the key areas of metres gained and metres conceded.
They also show the enormous challenge the Dragons face against them on Monday night, and why the Sea Eagles, despite being on the road, will start warm favourites in the game at WIN Jubilee Oval.
The Sea Eagles had, on average, made more metres per game (1443) than any other team heading into Round 8. The Dragons were looking good in that area as well, in fifth place with 1403 metres.
But in the area of metres conceded, where the Sea Eagles are also on top with the least total of 1222 metres, the Dragons are last of the 16 teams with 1455 metres.
How are the Dragons going to stop the Sea Eagles from rolling down the field on Monday night?
Not at all surprisingly, to go with those figures concerning metres made and conceded, the Sea Eagles are at or near the top in a number of other key areas that show how hard it is to breach their defence.
They are first in points conceded, with the least amount conceded per match (10.6), first in limiting offloads (7.4), first in missed tackles (17.7) and second in line-breaks conceded (2.3).
Williams, who plays on the right-hand side, is one of those key attackers who has benefited from the great work the Sea Eagles forwards have done in getting the team moving in the right direction.
Once the forwards are pushing the defence backwards and getting quick play-the-balls on top of that, the outside backs suddenly find themselves with a lot more space in which to move.
Williams said Lawrence, a late bloomer at NRL level who is in his first year with the Sea Eagles after two seasons with the Titans, had been a revelation.
“Brenton’s been fantastic for us,” he said. “He has taken on an important role here and done a great job with it. His work ethic is great, and the amount of work he does is huge. The way he goes about his business, on and off the field, is a credit to him.”
Lawrence, who was born in North Queensland, at Mackay, and played junior football in South Australia, was 26 when he made his first-grade debut for the Titans in June, 2011. He played 18 games for that club.
Now 28, Lawrence has played in all seven games for the Sea Eagles this season and is racking up impressive statistics on a weekly basis in a run of form that proves the club’s decision to recruit him was an inspired one.
Lawrence opened the season with 41 minutes on the field in the 22-14 win over the Broncos, when he ran for 105 metres and made 34 tackles, and his consistency since then has been tremendous.
He racked up 126 metres and 20 tackles in the 32-0 win over the Knights in the second round, and began to get other elements of his game going in that match as well. Lawrence had one offload against the Knights and has come up with five more since then. He also has one line-break.
In Round 3 against the Titans, when the Sea Eagles lost 16-14, Lawrence made 85 metres and 39 tackles in his 46 minutes. Next up, in the 26-0 win over the Tigers, Lawrence had his biggest chunk of game-time yet – 55 minutes. And he made the most of it, registering 135 metres and 38 tackles.
Lawrence played for 49 minutes of the 20-6 win over the Bulldogs, for 137 metres and 29 tackles, and 46 minutes in the 25-18 win over the Sharks, for 128 metres and 21 tackles.
The Sea Eagles were beaten in their most recent game, 20-12 by the Rabbitohs. Lawrence played for 41 minutes that time, making 86 metres and 33 tackles.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are when you start playing first grade, it matters how good you are,” Williams said. “Brenton was born in Queensland and his family travelled around a lot when he was a kid, but now he has arrived at our club and he’s doing very well.
“We’ve got a few new forwards who are doing a terrific job. We lost a few good forwards at the end of last season, but Justin Horo and the ‘Ginger Ninja’ – Tom Symonds – have come in, along with Brenton, and filled the holes superbly.
“I think the way the forwards have dominated for us this year has been one of the biggest improvements the team has made. They get things started. The drive in attack and the force in defence that the team has shown is second to none, in my opinion.
“The guys who are creating space with the work they’re doing in the middle of the park are making opportunities for the guys out wide in the backline, and also for ‘Snake’ (fullback Brett Stewart) when he looks for opportunities to run off teammates down the centre.
“We’re finding space and we’re doing things with it. Hopefully, it will keep working that way.”