Dragons find their swagger
With the stress of securing a finals spot now gone the confidence of the St George Illawarra camp is at an all-time high as the club looks to utilise their newfound swagger to eliminate the Bulldogs from the NRL finals series this weekend.
As the Dragons prepare for their first crack at the finals since Darren Lockyer's last ever game in the NRL back in 2011 – the Red V is ready to take the competition by storm.
Halfback Benji Marshall said last week that finals strip away any injuries players may be carrying and the prospects of glory freshens you up instantly, which he confirmed again on Wednesday.
"Honestly I was feeling very tired last week and this week I feel fresh, I feel young and I feel everyone is bouncing around at training. All our sessions we have had our talk has gone up probably 20 per cent," Marshall said.
"Everyone looks stronger in the gym, it's crazy. The fact we have made [the finals again], has been a positive around the place. From my point of view, I've seen an improvement in everyone."
The nervousness that consumed the camp in the final weeks of the regular season, with the Sea Eagles looking to hunt down the Dragons spot in the top eight, had an effect on the end to their season according to Marshall.
The veteran Kiwi representative said it certainly effected recent performances, namely the Dragons' loss to the Titans a fortnight ago and their get out of jail golden point win over the Wests Tigers last weekend.
"It took away from the process of our performances. For 60 minutes on the weekend I thought we were playing a semi final brand of football and for the last 20 we probably dropped our bundle and got too far ahead of ourselves," Marshall said.
"But now everyone has turned up to training relieved. This week knowing we are in the top eight has created a lot of relief and a lot confidence and I see guys bouncing around at training and being upbeat."
"Everything that happens up until this point now is irrelevant. It comes down to one 80 minute performance. If we win the game and put in the best game we can, people will stop saying 'we can't win it' or 'we're making up the numbers'.
"To be honest, I'm happy people are saying those things because what it does do is it takes the pressure and expectation off us and puts it on [other teams]."
Much like his captain Ben Creagh did at Monday's Captains Call, Marshall threw his support behind Drew Hutchison with regular halves partner Gareth Widdop in doubt with a quad injury.
"I thought last week Drew showed a lot of touches of class and for a young half to come in and he even overcalled me at times on the field and managed to get us a few repeat sets which I was happy with," Marshall said.
"It takes a lot of pressure off me and I said to him after the game that I thought he handled it with a lot of class. He even called for the field goal at the end after I missed three so it just shows how confident he is."