St George Illawarra will stick with their successful forwards-first attacking strategy after it provided them 42 points in their NRL season opener against Penrith on Saturday.
The Dragons ran the most metres of all teams on opening weekend, with their forwards getting their hands on the ball more and regularly taking it to the advantage line instead of passing it out the back.
It resulted in their equal-highest score in three years, with second-rower Joel Thompson reaping the biggest reward in the form of a hat-trick, while Jack de Belin also bagged a try.
The approach was particularly successful given it suited Sydney’s big wet but Dragons players say they are unlikely to change a winning formula headed into the rest of the season.
“We’ve got some big boys, some quality forwards there with (Paul) Vaughan and (Russell) Packer and the rest of them,” Thompson said on Tuesday.
“The more times they get their hands on their ball, the better it is for the team.”
The Dragons’ attack was written off by their critics all summer but coach Paul McGregor opted to stick with their strengths in formulating a new attacking game.
They have two big-minute players starting in the middle in the form of Packer and Vaughan, while their back row of Tyson Frizell, Thompson and de Belin is one of the best in the competition.
Packer (174) and Vaughan (189) ran for more than 360 metres between them over the weekend, while Thompson and de Belin combined for 14 tackle busts.
“Our strength is definitely our middle,” Frizell said.
“We played a pretty simple game through the middle and that gave opportunities for the backs like Gareth (Widdop) and (Josh Dugan) to be able to play footy too.”
The approach also had a clear benefit for captain Widdop.
His record alongside Josh McCrone improved to five-from-eight and he continued to look comfortable with more control without Benji Marshall alongside him in the Dragons’ halves.
He also equalled the merged club’s record haul of 22 individual points in a game, scoring two tries and kicking seven goals in one his best performances since arriving from Melbourne in 2014.
“He takes a fair bit of the criticism which is unfair on him a lot,” Thompson said.
“It’s a 17-man team there, we all have to take it on the chin. We all put our hand up and rip in and Gaz had a great game there, he’s worked really hard.”