St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor believes his side have made a statement after downing defending premiers Cronulla in a tense local derby on Sunday night.
The Dragons edged their fierce local rivals 16-10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium to retain the Monty Porter Cup and bragging rights north of the Captain Cook Bridge.
St George Illawarra turned away wave after wave of Cronulla attacks in the second half, with their resolute goal line defence a vast improvement from their loss to Parramatta a week earlier.
McGregor labelled it a courageous win.
“They’re a quality side. They’re the premiers and they certainly like playing at home,” he said.
“To come away with a win here is very pleasing and something we can take into next week.
“Certainly [there was] a few lessons learnt today. Again I thought our start was a bit shaky and then we pulled together really well, kicked away with a good, handy lead. We were probably guilty of protecting it a little bit in the second half.
“So a bit of a lesson learnt but the toughness displayed defending our try line there. I think in the second half was 35-plus play the balls inside our 20 [metres]. We only had six. So that’s real tough from last week where our goal line D wasn’t at its best. [It was a] big improvement week to week.”
“Our goal line hadn’t really been challenge up until last week. In the first game [and] in the trial against the Tigers we didn’t really have too much football on our line. Last week was a good lesson. We always pride ourselves on our D, I’m sure every side does, that resilience on your try line.
“Certainly turning teams away can frustrate them. And then it gives you the opportunity to attack at the other end.”
Dragons captain Gareth Widdop was delighted with the grit shown by his side as they matched the quality Cronulla forwards.
“Obviously local derbies are always tough and physical and we knew it was going to be a tough challenge,” he said.
“After last week we wanted to get back into the tough stuff doing the simple things well and I thought our forwards did that early and got us going forward.
“I think just the pleasing thing was the defence on our try line. At times it was great. Our scramble was great. We don’t want to be putting ourselves in those positions but certainly [it was a] step in the right direction.”
McGregor said fullback Josh Dugan had suffered a jaw injury, not a concussion, in the opening 10 minutes after being elbowed by teammate Russell Packer as the pair tackled Paul Gallen.
It has been a rollercoaster start to the season for St George Illawarra, who return to their spiritual home at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah to host the New Zealand Warriors on Sunday night.
Kick-off is at 6.30pm.