The Dragons were far too good for a lethargic Manly side at Lottoland on Saturday afternoon, piling on six tries in a 35-10 thumping to move – at least temporarily – to the top of the NRL ladder.
Unsung hero gets the rewards
Five-eighth and captain Gareth Widdop has rightly drawn plenty of plaudits for his performances over his team's current four-game winning streak but his halves partner, journeyman Josh McCrone, has been very much second fiddle through that period.
But the former Raider nabbed four try assists in the six-try effort through a series of intelligent passes and accurate kicks.
It's not a bad effort for a bloke who wasn't shaping as a first-string player heading into the off-season and even after the long-term injury to Drew Hutchison was no certainty to beat out the likes of Kurt Mann, Jai Field and Shaun Nona.
"It was something that myself and 'Gaz' (Widdop) spoke about pre-season," McGregor said.
"Gaz felt very comfortable with Josh and you can see from the way they're playing they enjoy playing with each other so the combination they're building is quite strong and it's showing out there on the footy field.
"Gaz competing for that last try is really typical of the way he's leading the team and Josh is certainly playing well too."
Barrett bewildered by sluggish Manly
Manly were mighty impressive in an away win against a previously unbeaten Roosters last Friday and looked simply unstoppable in a 36-0 romp against Canterbury at home the week before.
Which all makes their limp effort on Saturday all the more surprising for their coach Trent Barrett.
"It is, very. Very disappointing," Barrett said.
"We were never in it to be honest. We looked flat and un-enthused which is probably the complete opposite of our last three weeks. Certainly not good enough and not good enough at home to concede that many points at home is not on.
"We did look tired but that's not an excuse. NRL is an extremely tough competition and if you are off a little bit you get beat. And we were off in a big way.
"We weren't in that game at all – take nothing away from the Dragons, they were good they don't give you much but that performance today was chalk and cheese from the past three weeks and it's a wake-up call for everyone."
Dragons keep on rolling
Plenty thought he Dragons' current hot streak would come to an end at a ground that has not been kind to them over the years but instead it gave the Red V a chance to show what they're made of, according to coach Paul McGregor.
"It was a good opportunity for us to show that our character and resilience is real," he said.
"They said we had a big month ahead of us but we're just taking it one week at a time and the first one was to come to a ground that wasn't good to us in the past or hadn't been good to us in the past.
"I thought Manly at different stages came at us, especially before half time and after half-time then we got rewarded as soon as we absorbed the punishment and got a bit of footy we scored points which is really pleasing so it was a great win."
A late withdrawal
Manly's problems didn’t start with St George Illawarra's fortuitous second-minute try – they started about 15 minutes earlier when winger Aku Uate suffered a groin injury in the warm up. Coach Trent Barrett had to rush veteran back Matt Wright into the team – barely an hour after Wright finished up on the winning side for Blacktown Workers in their Intrust Super Premiership curtain raiser.
Wright was solid and ended up getting substituted with about half an hour to play, with coach Barrett admitting the late disruption did nothing to help his off-colour team's energy levels.
"That didn't help... He's got osteitis pubis, bit of a strange one but it only came on just before warm up," Barrett said.
"That doesn't help but that's no excuse for the rest of the performance. It wasn't good enough from us."
Risk/reward pays off for Dragons
From the time prop Paul Vaughan offloaded twice in the Dragons' first set of the match, the Red V showed a willingness to chance their arm and throw the ball around.
While their 15 total offloads ended up being two less than Manly and their 215 total passes was only 12 more than Manly's 203, the difference was in quality and execution.
Manly completed just 24 of 33 sets but for the Dragons it was 32 of 37 despite some riskier play and McGregor said it was a sign that his troops were playing with clear minds.
"We threw the ball around a fair bit when we did have the ball and offloads early stuck and created opportunities off the back end of that and to do that and to only have one or two errors is good," McGregor said.
"It's good that the boys are confident in their playing ability and having a clear mind around how we're playing.
"It's really early in the season and we know we have to bring it every week to compete at the top. It's great to see where we are but we have a game next week against a team that's hardened and been in the top four for a couple of years now."