Belief is the buzz word within the St George Illawarra camp. The Dragons, flying high with three consecutive wins, have shocked most league pundits following their Charity Shield disaster.
Just moments after their heavy pre-season loss to the Rabbitohs, coach Steve Price ripped in with a few home truths to his playing group.
“Pricey told us to go and have a good hard think about our performance and to come to training ready to face the music,” prop Jack De Belin said. “He wasn’t beating around the bush. If you didn’t do your job he’d let you know.”
From the outside looking in, the penny seemed to have dropped for the Dragons sometime after that final siren at the Charity Shield and the kick-off to round one against the Tigers. But insiders within the Dragons camp knew they were building strongly well before that.
Gone were the old heads in Nathan Fien, Matt Cooper and Michael Weyman who had served the club with distinction, highlighted by the 2010 premiership. They were replaced with youthfulness and a pre-season where combinations were able to gel and places for spots were competitive with the bulk of the squad featuring in every training session.
“There weren’t people who were injured and everyone was ripping in,” De Belin said. “We were training hard and everyone was on the paddock. It wasn’t easy.”
The coach is now angling for a fourth consecutive win for the first time in his career against Brisbane on Friday night.
Price was under pressure heading into this season. The attention grew following the Charity Shield.
“Everyone talks about that game,” Price said. “It’s a trial and you don’t get two points for a trial. I wasn’t concerned one bit. We were in a high phase of training. People were tired leading into the game. I had the upmost confidence in the boys being able to rebound.
“It’s been great to have virtually our full squad in the pre-season who were nearly able to do every session. We structured our pre-season a lot different to what we have done in previous years. We changed how we go about our offence and different skill sets used on different days. We did a hell of a lot more collision-based training.”
The Wayne Bennett era is well and truly behind the Dragons now with only four players; Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale, Ben Creagh and Trent Merrin having played in the 2010 premiership win. While De Belin made his NRL debut under Bennett, he didn’t find his feet in the top grade until Price took over.
Having missed the round-two clash with injury, De Belin is yet to win three consecutive NRL games in a season despite nudging the 50-match mark. He said his NRL initiation had been “tough”.
“It’s a great feel in the place at the moment,” De Belin said. “There is a real calmness in the joint that hasn’t been there in previous years. It’s refreshing.
“When you’re so young you don’t see the bigger picture and you’re just focused on the individual performances. As you get older it’s more than just yourself and the team. It was really hard there for a while.”
While they sit at the top of the ladder, Price’s future is far from secured. He is off-contract at the end of this year, with the club having an option in their favour to extend his time at the helm.
“It’s all about the team,” Price said. “I was focused on nailing the pre-season and creating an environment where everyone wanted to have a crack and enjoy themselves. That’s the standard as a coach that I set myself.
“I want players to believe in themselves and back themselves. There is a good feel around the place. There is a good confidence and good belief amongst the playing group. The boys have been playing some good footy.”
De Belin said Price had maintained calmness despite the constant pressure.
“He knows how to coach,” De Belin said. “At times it was definitely tough with the media scrutiny. He was one of the top candidates to lose his job, but it’s a credit to him because he has stuck solid and never backed down.
“Pricey would never show or let us know that he was under the hammer. He is very good like that. He keeps it together very well.”
The Dragons will face the Broncos without Josh Dugan at WIN Stadium after Price confirmed the fullback was close to returning from a knee injury but is at least another week away.