Dragons have cause to be confident

Were St George Illawarra too good? Or were the understrength Wests Tigers very poor? Let's lean towards the positive here. I think the Dragons have definitely improved from last season.

Sunday's 44-24 victory justified their off-season recruitment drive and it certainly showed this team have used the summer months well to prepare for this season.

They look fit, strong and healthy. Despite the hot conditions and fast pace of the match, they were clearly going better than their rivals at the back end of the contest. That's a great sign. Defensively, they were found wanting on a few occasions and conceded soft tries. By ''soft tries'', I mean that it came down more to defensive error than anything really brilliant by the opposition attacking game. However, at the point in the game when the result was in the balance, they steeled themselves to turn their opponents away.

In attack though, the Dragons showed massive improvement over what we have seen in recent times. Mind you, the game didn't start that well for the home side. They were down 12-0 early and when in possession of the ball their play looked very clunky and cumbersome. I guess with so many new faces in the side, that was somewhat to be expected.

However, the further the game went, the more you could see the Dragons starting to find some rhythm and confidence. If the Dragons' recruitment strategy was to find players who could produce  more points, it has only taken them one game in the new season to feel their investments have been worthwhile.

New halves Michael Witt and Gareth Widdop definitely gave the team a more probing edge to their attacking structures. Widdop in particular has great footwork and a super-competitive nature. These are great qualities in a playmaker.

You want your creative players to be hungry to break the line themselves. If they just stand and pass all day –  or simply try to squeeze teammates into non-existent gaps with suicidal short passes – then they are not really playmakers. They are just mailmen delivering a package. The real playmakers want to use those players around them to make breaks of their own. They like to threaten the line and have visions of coming out the other side and bursting into the back-field.

Widdop has such an attitude. He thinks run before he thinks pass. I love that in a playmaker. If he goes to run the ball and it's not on for himself, then the pass to his runner comes from his instincts.

At his former club, the Melbourne Storm, Widdop lived in the shadows of the big three – Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. Obviously you aren't called on to do a lot when you are playing with those  champions. The question was whether Widdop could leave the comfort of the Melbourne style of football and make his own mark in improving the Dragons, who finished well down the premiership ladder last year and couldn't buy a try for love nor money.

Widdop answered the question in the most emphatic style. He is a quality player.

I sense the Dragons will derive a lot of benefit from this victory. Confidence is a wonderful thing in sport.

Another couple of early season results like on Sunday and this could easily build into good momentum for the team with the Big Red V. Remember, too, they still have fullback Josh Dugan to come back into the team. Nice.

The Tigers?

Well, their excuses were at the ready even before kick-off. They were missing several of their NRL stars with injury and it was a new-look Tigers team that took the field. They began the match enthusiastically and exploded out of the blocks to a two-try margin after only 10 minutes, but really from that point onwards, their game slowly deteriorated. They conceded 44 points to 12 in the remaining 70 minutes of play.

Too many errors and poor discipline put them on the wrong side of the penalty count. The extra defence they were forced to do soon took its toll in the steamy conditions. By the end of the game they were conceding easy metres around the play-the-ball area and could not contain the persistence of the Dragons' ball runners.

Young halfback Luke Brooks was the key figure of interest in the Tigers' afternoon. He is a fine talent. His skill set and composure really do belie his tender years. He did, however, get a taste of what life will be like during the span of his NRL career. He is small and he learnt  quickly on Sunday that big blokes love running at little blokes.

He now needs to show he is prepared to stand his ground and meet the challenge. If he doesn't, well, the big blokes will just keep on coming. All power to the kid though. I hope he sees his way through this tough initiation period. He is certainly talented and rugby league needs to have more of the smaller men succeeding.

All in all, a good afternoon for the Dragons. There is still a long way to go but their first steps  were very encouraging.

This story Dragons have cause to be confident first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.