ST GEORGE Illawarra have dropped five of their last seven games, but Newcastle coach Nathan Brown isn’t buying talk that the Dragons are a fading force in the NRL this season.
The Dragons were a fixture in the top four, winning six of their first eight, before hitting the skids in a round nine loss to Melbourne in Wollongong. They’ve since managed wins against the lowly Warriors and Tigers but have struggled to recapture top form coming of their round 12 bye.
They’ll head into Sunday’s clash with the Knights at Kogarah on the back of two straight defeats to the Bulldogs and Eels but Brown rejected suggestions they’re on a downward slide.
“Everyone’s probably looking at the fact they’ve lost a couple in a row,” Brown said.
“I think Parramatta probably hustled and bustled them to victory. If you look at the tries they got, it was probably though the really great defence and reactionary stuff from Parramatta.
“In the last week or two I don’t think the [Dragons] defence has fallen away, I just think they’ve made a fair few more errors than what they have in the first 10 weeks of the competition when they were one of the form sides.”
They were comments almost a carbon copy of Dragon coach Paul McGregor’s in the wake of his side’s performances in the past fortnight.
Having played 172 games for the Dragons, and coached the joint-venture between 2003 to 2008, Brown is well aware of the scrutiny his mate McGregor faces at the helm of his former club.
“I’ve been in this game a long time and the Dragons have always copped their share of flack,” Brown said.
“I think last year we all sat back and thought ‘where are they heading? but they’ve made some good recruitment decisions and Mary’s made a few changes in the way he’s approached things.
“What we’ve seen is a side that’s got a forward pack up there with most in the competition. On the back of the forward pack, we’ve seen how good a player [Dragons skipper] Gareth Widdop is.
“For a couple of years his form probably wasn’t where we had seen him play in the past, but I think we’ve seen him really shine and be one of the form players of the competition this year.”