Acting Dragons captain Jason Nightingale believes intense defence at training and strength in adversity are behind the team’s early-season resurgence after a gritty 13-0 NRL win over previously unbeaten Newcastle in round five.
The Knights had built their four-match winning streak on steely defence but were outmatched in that department in wet and windy conditions at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
After trailing 18-0 in Canberra in round three, the unheralded Dragons bounced back to win 22-20 before returning home to WIN Stadium and grinding down Manly 12-4.
Nightingale believes the trigger point for the turnaround was Josh Dugan’s sin-binning against former club Canberra.
“I think it was that adversity when `Duges’ got sin-binned in that game that sparked something in us and we started defending like we wanted to,” Nightingale said.
“We’re probably just enjoying our defence, it’s probably not the best thing or ideal, but we are enjoying our defence more than our attack at the moment.
“A lot of good sides are built on defence, so we’re winning half the battle.
“We can take a lot out of what we’ve put into the last two and a half games.”
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said it was a “great pleasure” to watch the second-half defence of his side when Newcastle had a strong breeze at their backs.
McGregor said defence had been a major focus for the Dragons in the pre-season and Nightingale believed their bruising approach to training was a major factor in their recent success.
“We defend 100 per cent at training, and I think that really helps refer it to the field,” Nightingale said.
“We really rip in and make sure we get our contact in, so that when we get into the game we’re not going out there underdone.”
The Dragons came through the win on Saturday night unscathed and have captain Ben Creagh set to return from a back injury next Sunday against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.
The healthy roster and winning run have McGregor confident the Dragons can continue to defy the critics, who became louder after the opening two losses of the season.
“I think they wrote us off before a ball was kicked this year,” McGregor said.
The Knights meanwhile will be sweating on scans of Test back-rower Beau Scott’s ankle strain and the match review committee’s decision on Tariq Sims’ 14th-minute high shot.