Win over Cowboys a learning curve: McGregor
Six wins from their opening seven games has the St George Illawarra Dragons sitting on top of the Telstra Premiership ladder and coach Paul McGregor couldn't be prouder.
While many rugby league fans know competitions aren’t won in April, the Dragons have had to overcome criticism by even their own supporters during the off-season, particularly after a lacklustre showing against the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield back in February.
Fast-forward to two months later and the Dragons are the team that no one expected to see lead the Telstra Premiership after seven rounds, except for those within the club.
"I'm very pleased for the players after they've faced a lot of adversity through what happened last year finishing three points outside the eight," McGregor said post-game.
"They went to work late last year and I've got the pleasure of seeing it every day so it doesn't surprise me with their efforts every weekend.
"To get the rewards and celebrate like we are at the moment is enjoyable."
The Dragons were clinical in the opening half of the game against the Cowboys, running in five tries to take a 24-point lead before the visitors narrowed the scoreline late in the second stanza.
"Obviously the first 40 minutes we played some great footy and defended strong so created opportunity to score points," McGregor said.
"But the 5-1 penalty count in the second half… we didn’t do anything together in our defence, which created opportunity for the Cowboys and a bit of space."
"We let three tries off kicks, which is not good enough but every game we've got something to grow with."
Allowing the Cowboys back into the contest made the Dragons scramble in defence late in the game, which McGregor said would hold the side in good stead moving forward.
"It's a good learning curve for us because we haven’t been in that position to be in front by that scoreline," he said.
"I thought our intent was good but we just went one out too much and there were blokes doing things on themselves.
"We knew without Thurston they wouldn't be as strong and were missing a few players but that’s footy, we've played them with not a full strength squad at times too."
Skipper Gareth Widdop said the Dragons took their foot off the gas and allowed the Cowboys back into the game on the back of some ill-discipline.
"It was just one of those games where we made it hard for ourselves with the penalty count and they had all the momentum," Widdop said.
"We can take a lot from the first half as I thought it was really good and we'll take a look at the second.
"The biggest thing in our group at the moment is we don't want to let our teammates down, all it takes is one good defensive set to turn a game and we managed to hang on."
St George Illawarra now face a nine-day turnaround before their clash with the Sydney Roosters in the annual Anzac Day fixture at Allianz Stadium.