Hurting from the lightweight barbs, St George Illawarra five-eighth Gareth Widdop says his club’s much-maligned forwards have sharpened up their game ahead of the 2015 NRL season.
With backline stars like Widdop, Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall the Dragons again aren’t expected to have problems finishing off plays this year but question marks remain about how they’ll lay the foundations up front.
“Our forwards probably copped a bit of flak last year,” Widdop said ahead of Saturday’s Charity Shield match against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
“I know for a fact it probably hurts them. We have certainly worked really hard on our defence up the middle. They are confident in their ability and I am confident in them as well.”
There have been some signings for the Dragons up front for 2015, albeit on the low key side.
Former Melbourne, Manly and Sydney Roosters prop George Rose and Gundagai’s Rulon Natira come into the squad, the Dragons also having brought in local junior Rory O’Brien midway through 2014.
“If those blokes can put their best foot forward and get a start then we won’t be so small any more,” Widdop said.
“They (Souths) are one of the bigger packs in the game and if we can contain them on the weekend then that’s a good stepping stone.”
Dugan, who says he’s been training for much of the pre-season at fullback and is eyeing off would-be NFL recruit Jarryd Hayne’s No.1 jersey for the Blues, offered a different tack.
“Everyone says how small we are but I think we are one of the most mobile packs in the game and our forwards can also ball play,” Dugan said.
“I don’t think there isn’t one of them that couldn’t catch and pass or draw and pass if it came down to it. Not everything is a negative.”
The Dragons will certainly get a quick indication of how far their forwards have come in the offseason against Souths.
The dominant pack in their premiership winning 2014 season, there was little to suggest the Rabbitohs would be anything less than bullish up front again given their Auckland Nines win, despite the departure of Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o.
And Dugan for one knows just how brutal they can be.
He was ruled out for a month when he got hit on the knee by a rampaging George Burgess in last year’s 38-20 Charity Shield loss.
“I don’t think I will be getting my knees in the way of his head too quick,” he said.
Dugan has been named to make his return to fullback in a near- full strength line-up against the Rabbitohs.
The 24-year-old moved to centre last year in an effort to win a spot in the NSW State of Origin side.
His switch back to fullback gives a chance to exciting youngster Euan Aitken at centre, who was last month labelled “one the biggest up and coming stars” by Benji Marshall.
NSW representative forward Trent Merrin has been rested due to his involvement in the NRL All Stars match next weekend.