St George Illawarra Dragons captain Gareth Widdop calls for fast start against Newcastle Knights

Happier times: Dragons captain Gareth Widdop celebrates a try with Josh Dugan against the Warriors. Picture: Chris Lane
Happier times: Dragons captain Gareth Widdop celebrates a try with Josh Dugan against the Warriors. Picture: Chris Lane

Gareth Widdop says his side must improve their starts to games ahead of an important clash against struggling Newcastle on Sunday.

St George Illawarra have slipped out of the top four after a string of poor results and could slide as low as seventh by the end of the weekend should the Knights score an upset at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah.

Poor starts have hurt the Dragons in their last two games as they were forced to defend for long periods in the opening quarter of their losses to Canterbury and Parramatta. That extra workload in defence left St George Illawarra with little petrol in the tank late in those matches and – along with the absence of key players through injury and representative selection – made it harder in the back end of games.

Widdop identified the Dragons’ starts and a return to doing the simple things well as areas they needed to improve against the Knights.

“A few errors, not finishing in good field position. That’s what is putting us on the back foot and defending for the first 20 minutes is going to take its toll at some point,” he said.

“The biggest thing for us I think is we’ve completed under 70 per cent. If you’re doing that in the NRL it’s going to be tough to get the win.

“It’s a simple game and if we can hold the ball we’ve got plenty of people in the team shape to score points. We’re forcing the ball when we don’t need to and that’s just hurting us at the moment. But nothing’s changed for us, we’re just not executing as well as we need to be.”

The Knights lifted themselves off the bottom of the table last weekend thanks to their second bye, climbing above the Wests Tigers on for and against.

The Dragons will need to be wary of Newcastle who have gone close in a number of recent games including tight losses to Manly and Penrith.

Dragons stalwart Nathan Brown, who played 172 matches for St George and St George Illawarra and coached the club for 151 games, will return to Kogarah as coach of the Knights.

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