The Dragons showed they can be an attacking force with a resounding 42-10 victory over a Panthers side that failed to live up to the pre-season hype.
Pre-season slog pays off
A torturous off-season paid immediate dividends for the Dragons on Saturday, with their starting pack churning out huge minutes in the 32-point win.
Starting front-rowers Russell Packer (52 minutes) and Paul Vaughan (46) were the only two forwards who didn't play at least 65 minutes, but the pair still managed 174 and 189 metres respectively.
The entire squad looked fitter than 2016, and that was evident as they scored the final three tries of the contest to kill off any hopes of a Panthers comeback.
"You shape your season through your pre-season," coach Paul McGregor said.
"We've got new staff and with new staff brings change. Our new performance manager Nathan Pickworth brought some guys from an AFL background so they've done a lot of running.
"I'm staying right out of that department. I crossed over too much last year into different roles, and I'm just being the coach now which is good."
The Dragons' win was their biggest over the Panthers, surpassing their 28-point triumphs in 2001 and 2009. Five-eighth Gareth Widdop's haul of 22 points equalled Jamie Soward and Amos Roberts's club record for a single game, while Saturday night's treble was the first time Joel Thompson had scored a hat-trick at NRL level, adding to the two he scored in Round 26 last year.
Dragons dominate the yardage battle
Making metres wasn't an issue for the Panthers last year, with the mountain men the fifth-best side in that category in 2016. But that form didn't continue on Saturday as they were outrun by nearly 700 metres by the Dragons. Three Red V starters failed to run for 100 metres, while only three Panthers starters cracked triple figures. Where they really struggled was coming out of their own end, and it was clear that they missed the injured Josh Mansour who so often got them on the front foot last season.
Encouraging signs for Martin
In his first NRL game since Round 8 last year, Te Maire Martin showed enough promise to suggest he can make the No.6 jersey his own in 2017. The flamboyant five-eighth set up his side's first try and played a key role in their second, and wasn't afraid to take the line on when the opportunity presented itself. Importantly, he didn't shirk away from his defensive duties, and was called on to make 30 tackles. While he missed four tackles, he wasn't the worst offender, with Bryce Cartwright's at time suspect defence on show with eight misses.
Contrasting night for Fantasy locks
NRL Fantasy coaches were cheering when Jack de Belin crossed for a first-half try that bolstered his score to a whopping 91 points in Round 1, but rival managers were in panic mode after Panthers lock Trent Merrin scored just 32 on Saturday.
Both players are must-haves after stellar 2016 campaigns, but given their price tags, it's unlikely you would have been able to fit both of them into your teams at this stage of the season.
Those with de Belin will still be smiling after the lock forward made 36 tackles, ran for 142 metres, produced five offloads and broke seven tackles to go with his try.
"Jack de Belin is a special player who can play long minutes and he's got good skill with the ball," his coach said.
"He probably could have played the 80 but it got to a stage where we gave him a spell and brought 'Hosty' (Jacob Host) on and he came back to finish the game with 15 minutes to go."
It was a different story for Merrin who played just 44 minutes.
"He got caught in the first half doing a lot of defence," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.
"It was his first game of the year. The second half we got him out there, and when the game was on we put Moses [Leota] back out there. He pulled up alright."