St George Illawarra Dragons halfback Josh McCrone is enjoying a rare run of stability in the Telstra Premiership and believes he is now reaping the rewards of an opportunity to build some regular combinations at NRL level.
Saturday's 35-10 trampling of Manly at Lottoland was arguably St George Illawarra's best performance of their five wins so far in season 2017 but there is no doubt it was the best personal effort yet for the maligned 29-year-old, who conjured four try assists in a fine 80-minute outing.
A pre-season injury to Drew Hutchison opened the door for the Temora Dragons junior to build on his 140 NRL games over eight years in a regular partnership with Gareth Widdop, while building a right-edge combination with the likes of Tyson Frizell and Euan Aitken in both attack and defence. Six matches in, the results are showing.
"I think that was something this club underestimated a bit last year, to give time to build combinations," McCrone said after the game.
"It's something that's come along, I've had five or six weeks with 'Friz' and Euan, it takes time to build, you don't just jump in and play automatically.
"They're starting to find out how I play and I'm starting to find out how they play and the combinations are starting to happen so I think that's massive to build those combinations."
Despite losing Frizell early on to a rib complaint on Saturday and having Kurt Mann replace Euan Aitken (hamstring) at centre the week before, having plenty of players who know the system has made the changes seamless, he added.
"It's been good, especially the last couple of weeks we had [Mann] start there in the centres last week and Euan back there this week, we lost Friz – blokes are just fitting into the system, that's something we worked on in the pre-season that everyone's able to fill everyone else's job. It's been really pleasing how it's worked," he said.
After being shuffled in and out of first grade – mostly as a back-up option – by both Canberra and the Dragons through 2015 and 2016, McCrone was understandably reluctant to get carried away with his own form after playing in the shadow of a red-hot Gareth Widdop for much of the year so far.
"Footy's a bit of a funny game, sometimes the ball comes your way, sometimes it doesn't," McCrone said.
"As long as the team's scoring points I'm happy. 'Gaz' has had the run of the footy the last couple of weeks and today the footy came my way and we were able to finish a couple of points.
"We talk about the forward pack, it's a powerful pack and it rolls through the middle of teams, any half can play off the back of that. If you're an NRL half you should enjoy playing off the back of that.
"It's nice to get a bit of consistency and that's what we've got at the moment in the halves there."