By STEVE MASCORD
“The fittest side in the comp” – that’s the mantra that St George Illawarra players use when the blow torch is applied to them, it’s been revealed.
The Dragons’ world look like it had fallen in on them when Jarrod Croker scored with three minutes left in regulation time at Jubilee Oval last Thursday after they had dominated the clash with Canberra.
But in a glimpse inside the joint venture’s game day mentality, English forward Mike Cooper tells League Week: “It goes back to our fitness. We always think we’re a fit side and that was a real test for us.
“We talked about it quite a lot, about backing ourselves late on in games. Our second half performances have been really poor so far this year.
“We just had to stay tight and be composed. We’ve got a lot of experience in the side and we didn’t really panic. It was a bit of a shock to me that we went level. We probably should have closed the game our really … learning curve.
“We all felt pretty good at that period of time. We certainly put the work in in the pre-season and we feel like we’re the fittest side in the the comp. We proved that last year. We would out-grind teams and beat them on fitness and grit.
The Dragons recovered from Croker’s match-levelling score to win in extra time, thanks to an intercept from Scotland Four Nations hopeful Euan Aitken.
Captain Gareth Widdop confirms Paul McGregor’s men draw heavily on their torturous pre-season.
“We certainly back ourselves with our fitness and effort,” the five-eighth says.
“Last week we let ourselves down. It was a big challenge there, going to 12-all in that situation. You’ve just got to remain positive in what you do and that’s what we tried to do. With a bit of luck, we managed to get a win.”
One sour note was an overtime penalty for running a “wall” during extra time – two weeks after Raiders coach Ricky Stuart complained Penrith’s use of the tactic cost his side two competition points.
“To be honest I was more focused on taking the field goal,” says Widdop. “I didn’t really know what the penalty was for. I was just trying to get back onside.
“It’s a hard one. As long as they’re consistent with the ruling on it, that’s all that matters.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK