DRAGONS coach Paul McGregor didn't smash his pen on the ground this time – but he must've been tempted at certain stages of his side's 18-16 win over a game Bulldogs outfit on Monday.
It came after the Dragons, featuring Gerringong’s Tariq Sims led 14-6 at half-time, with two penalty goals to Gareth Widdop their only points in the second half after the Dogs scored two tries in three minutes to open the second stanza.
It would've left fans feeling more than a shade of deja vu, coming at the same venue, and playing out in almost identical fashion, to the Dragons round 26 defeat to the Dogs last season that bundled them out of the finals.
The pen was spared on this occasion, but not without a mighty scare, with a covering Matt Dufty tackle on a flying Marcelo Montoya denying the Bulldogs a late go-ahead try three minutes from time.
It came with the help of Paul Vaughan, one of four Dragons backing up from Origin, with his effort not going unnoticed by McGregor.
“[Vaughan] was the bloke on the inside that chased and forced [Montoya] to the sideline,” McGregor said.
"For Vaughny to chase a winger 30-40 metres to put Duft in the position was outstanding, Duft making the tackle was outstanding. It was pretty important to us and it's a real way of looking at where we're going and where we've been.
“The pair of them there is what team first [is about]. If you look at Vaughny's game and where it's grown, it's because he's willing to put others first and that was one of those occasions.
"He's a front-rower and he's pushing a guy to the sideline so a fullback can make a tackle that ends up being over the sideline and wins a game for you. It was a moment that we needed.”
Dufty's tackle didn't deny the Bulldogs one last shot at the line, with a Jack de Belin fumble giving the home side a scrum-feed 10 metres out from the Dragons line with five seconds left on the clock.
They couldn't find the magic play with Kurt Mann, who strangely injected into the starting line-up at the expense of the benched Jason Nightingale, defusing a Moses Mbye kick to seal the win.
It saw them re-take their place at the top of the ladder, after surrendering it to the Panthers two weeks ago, and finished a match McGregor believes his side could well have lost last season – as they did in that infamous round 26 capitulation.
“It's certainly a different attitude [to last year]for sure,” McGregor said.
“Attitude comes from our belief, our belief's strong so obviously our attitude's there. We're very happy to get the result of the back of that. It's something we've worked on as a group.
“At certain stages we certainly weren't thinking clearly enough in the second half but we were still good enough to find something which is really important.
“The Dogs have lost their last seven games now by less than six points so, I know everyone's kicking them, they're a team that competes very hard and they're not far away from a win.
“We knew we needed to start well and we got that right. We dropped off a little bit but we found it again when we needed to.”
The Dragons showed no sluggishness coming off a 16-day turnaround, leading 8-0 after eight minutes, with Cam McInnes splitting the Dogs open on just the third play of the game.
Euan Aitken scored four plays later and things looked ominous for the hosts when Tariq Sims barged over off a deft short-ball from Widdop on their next visit to the Dogs end.
It was a scrappy affair thereafter as both sides combinied for 13 first-half errors, with Adam Elliot's 17th minute try coming on the back of three consecutive mistakes from the Dragons.
The brilliance of Nene Macdonald – who added to his already stacked 2018 highlight reel with an in inch-perfect athletic finish seven minutes before the break – broke the monotony, with Widdop's sideline conversion giving the Dragons an eight-point buffer at the interval.
It was the Dogs who came out better in the second half with Brett Morris splitting the Dragons open four minutes after the resumption and finding Moses Mbye.
Mbye was dragged down by the cover defence before Montoya crossed from a Josh Jackson grubber on the next play to cut the deficit back four.
It was momentary, with Morris scoring after Mann fumbled a Craig Frawley kick in his own goal. Mybe added the extras from out wide to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the match with just half an hour to play.
Widdop slotted a penalty goal six minutes later to square the ledger at at 16-all after Jack de Belin forced an error from Jackson with a bone-rattling hit.
The Dragons skipper took the lead with his second 10 minutes later after Aaron Woods was penalised for a late shot on James Graham.
The Bulldogs rallied late but the Dragons were good enough to tackle their way to victory – just.