St George Illawarra players prepare to play for up to 90 minutes and expect they will only have the ball for five minutes each match.
It's part of Dragons coach Anthony Griffin's mantra of playing for each other and be prepared to do whatever it takes that has led to the team climbing into the top four after four consecutive wins.
On the eve of Sunday's match against the Warriors at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, St George Illawarra players spoke about some of the reasons behind their stunning turnaround after being humbled by South Sydney in the Charity Shied and beaten by Cronulla in round one.
"We're building nicely as a team. Our focus is team-first," fullback Matt Dufty said. "We're '75 minutes without the ball' and doing your job for your teammate.
"I think it's been a real good platform for the boys to build off. You're playing for something more than yourself and you're playing for the other 17 people out there."
Griffin told his players to prepare as if they'll only have the ball for a few minutes per game. He also told them they need to be ready for every game to go to golden point extra time.
Dufty: We are playing for each other
"We plan to go for 90 minutes, it is just the mentality we have," said forward Trent Merrin, who this week will make his 250th appearance across the NRL and Super League, just a week after celebrating his milestone 150th game for the Dragons.
"If it goes past the 80 minutes, we are ready to go 90 minutes and do whatever it takes. We are prepared to keep defending sets, put our bodies where they don't want to go and keep working for each other."
St George Illawarra players had overcome 10 six-again calls and the sin-binning of second-rower Tariq Sims in last weekend's 26-12 defeat of the previously unbeaten Eels at Bankwest Stadium.
Dufty said the Dragons' scrambling defence was due to the camaraderie and attitude developed in the pre-season under Griffin, while teammates revealed that the new coach barely spoke to them about football.
"Hook has been driving it since day one of pre-season," Dufty said. "Even when we were doing laps around the oval, just ridiculous kilometres, he was saying 'you find that extra metre, that extra second in the time for your teammate – don't worry about yourself'.
"If you're thinking about yourself, then you're letting your teammates down. I think everyone really bought into it and I think you can tell out there [on the field] by our scramble.
"Maybe last year we wouldn't have done it – or we would have – but this year, there's a real focus on that if someone gets beaten it's not their fault, it's the other people's fault that they weren't there to help them out.
"Having a real focus on team-first is something that's been a really big stepping stone for me as well. It's good to go out there and think about it. It makes you a lot calmer because you know you're doing it for your teammates."
Dragons v Warriors - Round 6
Star centre Zac Lomax said about one per cent of his conversations with Griffin were about football and the rest about life.
"The best thing about Hook is he's a great fella and person before he's a coach," Lomax said. "You can talk to him about anything. Football comes last to him – the person comes first.
"I've clicked really quickly with Hook, I've taken so much away from him, more as a person and understanding life in general.
"Once you cross that stripe at training it's a hundred per cent footy, he brings the best out of you, but it's all about being a good person first. We're fortunate enough to be football players but we're people first and foremost."
Forward Josh Kerr said Griffin had taken an interest in his family and life away from the NRL.
Griffin had also challenged him to put on weight and make the transition from the middle to the second row.
"When we went to Townsville we had a connecting flight in Brisbane and my parents came to airport to see me. He wanted to come down to meet them," Kerr said. "He had a good chat with my old man and he does really care about the person you are off the field.
"He knows when to coach you and when to be a mentor to you. He is really good like that. He's all for having a laugh at training but he gives you the hard word. He's given me a few hard words, I'll tell you that.
"One of the best things Hook has done for me is make me realise I can do a lot of things I thought I couldn't do.
"Manly was my first 80-minute game and it was crazy. Being 118 kilos and playing 80 minutes in the back row, I didn't think I'd be able to do that but I have."
Magic Round: One month to go
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