Bennett puts puff back in Dragons
ST GEORGE 24 BULLDOGS 12
WAYNE Bennett has put the grunt back into St George Illawarra.
The Dragons continued their impressive pre-season form with a four-tries-to-two victory over the new-look Bulldogs, who were strong in their first run under new coach Kevin Moore.
Bennett appears to have put a stamp on the Dragons that Nathan Brown was unable to achieve, getting the red and whites to grind out close contests by defending for each other and play simple, structured football.
They did it last night in Wollongong against a Bulldogs outfit that unveiled a raft of new signings.
Standing in the gymnasium under WIN Stadium, where the club's new motto states "there are no short cuts to long-term success'', Bennett spoke about the Dragons learning to roll up their sleeves for 80 minutes.
"We certainly realise that it's one of our achilles heels and we do want to reverse that a little bit,'' Bennett said.
"We're certainly getting the idea about it. We're far from perfect at it. Good footy teams do that. We have to do that and we want to be a good football team.
"I like the way in the first half we lost a bit of momentum and fell behind and then we fought our way back into the game.
"Canterbury have probably recruited as well as anyone in the competition, and I think they'll be formidable.''
Despite the loss, there is plenty of optimism for last year's wooden-spooners.
The new recruits have brought stability, direction and structure, leaving their new coach impressed.
"I thought all of the new guys were outstanding for our first hit out,'' Moore said.
"I thought Mick (Ennis) and Noddy (Brett Kimmorley) were really good, Mick Hodgson's work rate was tremendous and David Stagg's defence was great as well.''
For the Dragons, last night's halves pairing of Mathew Head and Jamie Soward provided solid direction and some flashy touches.
Having overcome a chronic knee injury, which required two reconstructions, Head has trained the full season and looks in good nick.
Head first laid on a flat ball for Matt Cooper to score before snatching an intercept from Ben Hannant and finding Jason Nightingale, who raced 75m for a 12-6 lead.
"I had two knee reconstructions back to back and they're not the easiest thing to come back on. It's great to be back at the club I always wanted to play at,'' Head said.
But Bennett has a welcome selection headache in where to fit Ben Hornby. Five-eighth or fullback appear the most likely options.
Darius Boyd played fullback last night before Brett Morris was trialled there in the second half.
The new-look Bulldogs were sharp early with halfback Kimmorley and hooker Ennis guiding the side in impressive fashion.
Josh Morris set up the first try against his former club with a strong run from 10m out before popping a pass to winger Matt Utai.
The remodelled Dragons engine room looks to have plenty of grunt, with the injection of Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan and Michael Weyman complementing Justin Poore, Dean Young and Ben Creagh.
Smith is tipped to start the year at lock, with Creagh and Costigan in the second row.
The jury remains out on the Luke Priddis experiment at hooker.
While there is no questioning the 2003 Clive Churchill Medal winner's credentials, the Dragons didn't seem to have as much time to create in attack with him at dummy-half.
For Kimmorley, Ennis, Hannant, Stagg, Michael Hodgson and Yileen Gordon it was the first outing in blue and white and they will be better for the run.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 (M Cooper J Nightingale R Thorby J Clarke tries J Soward 4 goals) bt BULLDOGS 12 (M Utai B Barba tries H El Masri M Ennis goals) at WIN Stadium. Crowd: 7,628.