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Dragons captain Gareth Widdop.

The Dragons have emerged from a gruelling State of Origin period on top of the ladder and plan to use their 24-10 victory over the Cowboys as a springboard into a tough fortnight which seems them face the Roosters and Warriors in rounds 20-21.

Coming off losses to Wests Tigers and Melbourne, the Dragons were determined to steady the ship at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday and remind everyone they are the real deal in 2018.

Coach Paul McGregor acknowledged that the rep period from round 13-18 had been tough but he was pleased with the way his team bounced back against the Cowboys, regaining top spot on for and against from Souths, who suffered a shock loss to Wests Tigers.

"It was really good to get away as a group this week," McGregor said. "We haven't been together for a long time. We did some revision and ownership of the game against the Tigers... that helps your footy team.

Match highlights: Cowboys v Dragons – Round 19, 2018

"Preparation and practice is everything for us. We have some new players in important positions this year with young Matt Dufty in his second year and Ben Hunt's a new halfback next to 'Gaz' (Gareth Widdop)."

Hunt faced a barrage of criticism after his performance for the Maroons in Origin II but the Dragons' faith in their No.7 has never wavered and his partnership with Widdop paved the way for the 14-point win.

Widdop was also pleased with the way his young players rose to the challenge, particularly Dufty, who set up one try and blitzed the defence to score one of his own. The 22-year-old now has 11 tries for the season.

"I think everyone has seen what Matt is capable of and how quick he is," Widdop said.

"He is still learning the game and he's getting better each and every week.

"Collectively as a 17 we all performed and lived up to our standards that we set as a team which is probably what has let us down a little bit the last few weeks. It was good to see that we turned up for each other tonight."

Dragons halfback Ben Hunt.
Dragons halfback Ben Hunt. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Although the Dragons struggled with their completions, they made up for it with excellent execution, scoring almost every time they got to within 20 metres of the Cowboys' line.

"That was really pleasing - the execution side of things," Widdop said.

"Obviously we'd like to get down their a little bit more but we keep working on it really, really hard.

"I think the pleasing thing was our defence, keeping them to 10 points against a team that has 'JT' in it."

The Dragons renew their rivalry with the Roosters at Allianz Stadium next Sunday before hosting the Warriors in Wollongong in round 21.

Their final four games are then against teams who are outside the top eight in Parramatta, Wests Tigers, Canterbury and Newcastle.


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