Dragons v Sea Eagles: Five key points
The St George Illawarra Dragons defeated an injury plagued Manly Sea Eagles 12-4 at Wollongong, here are five things we learnt from the encounter on Saturday night.
Manly's depth to be tested big-time
The Dragons didn't cause any major damage on the scoreboard, but they certainly inflicted enough pain on Manly coach Geoff Toovey to last at least another week. Skipper Jamie Lyon (groin), Josh Starling (knee) and Feleti Mateo (knee) all failed to finish the match and are likely to miss next week's clash against the Raiders in Albury.
"I had to reshuffle the backline there a bit, which wasn't helpful. We ran out of replacements with about ten to go," he said.
"Feleti might be a couple of weeks, Josh Starling re-injured his knee again so he might be a couple of weeks. The skipper, we'll re-assess him again in a week or two. The positive I suppose was that Kieran [Foran] came through okay."
Dragons defence to be tested at Knight-time
They've conceded just one try in their past 140 minutes of football, so you can't blame Dragons forward Trent Merrin for wanting to ride their new-found defensive prowess all the way into the Hunter region next Saturday night.
After averaging just 12 points a game through the first month of the season, we asked Merrin whether he thought they had enough points in them to topple surprise ladder leaders Newcastle.
"You can win a game off two points. So it's not about putting as many points on them. I think it's about our defence and building pressure off our D," he replied.
"That's what won us the game tonight – our defence and how much we work for each other inside and out. We're not going into next week worried about our points, we'll be going in there worrying about our D."
Manly in their biggest slump in a decade
Saturday night's defeat means Manly have now been defeated in six of their past seven NRL games – a losing stretch not seen on the northern beaches in almost a decade.
However halfback Daly Cherry-Evans says last year's three straight defeats that ended their season shouldn't count.
"Last year is really irrelevant. It's so irrelevant. I'm sure Souths aren't gloating on last year's performances. They're going to try and produce another great year and unfortunately we finished on sour terms last season the way we were bundled out," he told NRL.com.
"This season is a fresh start and unfortunately we haven't started well. That's two losses in a row, which is something that this club tries to pride itself on not doing.
"The only people that can fix it are inside this club and the playing staff. We need to make sure that we roll our sleeves up and work really hard. We're not at Brookvale for the next few weeks, so we've got a lot of hard work ahead of us. The only people that can change it are within these walls."
Dugan's already playing injured
Dragons coach Paul McGregor admitted fullback Josh Dugan is still battling the ankle injury he suffered in their season-opening loss to Melbourne that forced him to miss the following week.
Dugan appeared to have re-aggravated the ankle on Saturday night, but bravely played on and ended the night with this impressive stat line: 222 metres, seven tackle busts, three offloads, one line break, one try assist and one line break assist.
"Yeah, he did hurt it again tonight. But he's managing through at the moment and he'll keep continuing to do that because he puts the team first and that's important," McGregor said.
"He's a big-name player and you need them out there every week to be successful as a team. He's putting himself on the field.
"He came back early from an injury so when you come back early you've got to obviously look after it the first couple of weeks when you do play. There's no doubt in there, he's in a bit of ice, but he's fine to play next week."
Wheel turns again for Manly juniors
Not since 2010 have Manly's under-20s side shaken the Holden Cup competition, but this year's batch of baby Sea Eagles are proving that the talent wheel is turning again on the northern beaches.
Led by star fullback Tom Trbojevic, the Sea Eagles held off a willing Dragons outfit to record a 24-22 victory and keep their unbeaten start to the season intact. Trbojevic was once again the star, crossing for his eighth try in four games, and showing why the Sea Eagles hierarchy consider him the heir to Brett Stewart's throne.
Cherry-Evans said he was pleased to see the club's under-20s side finally get some success.
"I honestly believe Tom's reaping the rewards of some very good team work. They're playing some great structures at the moment and they're working really hard," he said.
"It's good to see Manly's finally back in the fold with a competitive udner-20s side. I think the coaching staff are doing a great job of managing that side and the rewards are coming through tries from Tom Trbojevic."