THE Dragons inability to find a ball-playing fullback cost them victory on Friday night.
Forget their lack of intensity, lack of ruck control and poor completion rate — all obvious factors — but had St George Illawarra had a genuine No.1 they would have triumphed against the Sydney Roosters.
Let me clarify that this is not a dig at Jason Nightingale.
Arguably the best winger in the game, Nightingale is a reluctant fullback who has answered a desperate call from coach Steve Price to fill the void at the back.
As a winger there is no better finisher than Nightingale and he is a walk-up start in the Kiwis Test squad — and if he had been eligible he would have taken his place by now on the wing for NSW and Australia.
But a ball-playing distributor he is not. And that is what crippled the Dragons on Friday night.
The ability to catch and pass and create an extra man with fluent passing movements is just not happening with the Dragons.
At the moment they are waiting for a defensive error or Brett Morris to beat his outside man with pace rather than create opportunities of their own accord.
And when the rare opportunities arise the Dragons are too disjointed with their passing ability to reach their target in time.
Nightingale isn’t the only one who struggled with this on Friday night.
The players are in good positions, running threatening angles and their structure is causing opportunities, but look closely and — simple as it may sound — passing has been the problem.
It may not be that a pass has gone to ground, but when the recipient has to adjust his hands either reaching for the ball behind him or not quite to his chest that causes delays.
That time that it’s taking the edge players to correct a mistimed pass is allowing the defenders to either get up quickly and shut the Dragons attack down, or if the defence was struggling, it gives them an opportunity to regroup and reform their position.
Kyle Stanley’s ability to ball play was the reason he started the season at fullback but he lacked the genuine pace that Morris or Nightingale has.
At this stage of the season, Nightingale is the Dragons best option at fullback, but if they are to make a late charge towards the finals those 50/50 passes need to improve — drastically.
How the Dragons would love to have Gerard Beale, signed for 2013 from the Broncos, a few games early.
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