Benji-less Dragons building belief
He was the absent star that the boys at Marist College in Brisbane had come to see but Dragons players have taken confidence from a big win over the Warriors in which Benji Marshall played only a supporting role.
While his teammates were put through their paces during a training session in a sun-drenched Brisbane on Monday afternoon Marshall was off getting scans on a hamstring strain, the results of which will be known on Tuesday morning.
Under-20s halfback Drew Hutchison travelled with the NRL squad to Brisbane from Wellington in New Zealand on Sunday as cover for Marshall should he miss Friday night's clash with the Broncos while forward Will Matthews (dislocated shoulder) has returned to Wollongong.
Eto Nabuli and Nathan Green joined the team that clinically disposed of the Warriors 36-0 on Saturday and forward Tyson Frizell said given the players who went down before and during the game it was a confidence-restoring result.
"You take a lot of belief, knowing that you can do it in tough times like we did," Frizell said. "Having Benji go down, one of our star playmakers in our team, and also we had Will Matthews go down and before the game Dyl Farrell went down.
"That's three of our right edge that went down and we had two middles defend at centre and halfback and those two guys did an awesome job.
"To be able to know that we can do it in tough times is really pleasing."
Having laid on the opening try for Justin Hunt – a late call-up to the team after Farrell's back injury seized up in the warm-up – Marshall was forced from the field in just the 17th minute with the Dragons leading 4-0.
With Marshall gone Gareth Widdop (one try assist) and hooker Mitch Rein (two try assists) took ownership of the team's structure in attack and orchestrated the second 36-point victory of the Dragons' season.
"When Benji went off, because he's such a massive part of our team attack-wise, the Warriors were probably thinking, 'Here we go here, their chief playmaker's off'," Rein told NRL.com.
"But I think Gareth Widdop really stood up there and myself I felt like I had to stand up as well and help him out a lot more and try and lead the boys around the park.
"Thankfully we ended up coming up with some good decisions and we scored as many points as we did."
Back in the top eight courtesy of two straight wins, the seven-game losing streak that threatened to derail their campaign is now in the Dragons' rearview mirror and Rein says belief has been restored.
"We were down and out for a bit and down on confidence from losing seven in a row," Rein said.
"It's pretty bad but we knew we weren't far off and our last two performances have been a step in the right direction.
"Last weekend keeping the Warriors to zero and the amount of defence we did at the start of the game defending our own line was really pleasing and we got a lot of confidence back from our 'd'.
"We had a massive pre-season and we're a really tight group of mates as well so just that belief and knowing the work that we'd put in in pre-season and throughout the year.
"We didn't forget how to play footy overnight, we were just down on confidence and we knew if we kept sticking at those little things and doing all the one per centers that our luck would turn for us and we'd get our confidence back and it's shown in the last two weeks.
"Newcastle was a step in the right direction, still a bit nervous, but I thought the weekend was really pleasing."