ST GEORGE Illawarra have managed consecutive wins for the first time since round six last season, comprehensively outplaying the Titans in a 20-8 win on Sunday.
Having not managed a single try in their first two outings post-COVID shutdown, but the Dragons, featuring former Shellharbour Sharks Trent Merrin and Euan Aitken as well as Albion Park-Oak Flats product Adam Clune, have now posted eight in back to back wins, and only conceded a 76th minute consolation try to young-gun Tanah Boyd in moving to 2-4.
Matt Dufty tightened his hold on the number one jumper, backing up a career-best performance against Cronulla last week with another strong showing at the back.
The livewire fullback laid on his side's first try for Zac Lomax, the man he unseated to reclaim his preferred number, and looked dangerous throughout the afternoon.
Newly minted halves pairing Corey Norman and Adam Clune also had their decent touches, laying on tries for Mikaele Ravalawa and Jordan Pereira respectively.
Coach Paul McGregor was entitled to expect a few more tries from his side given the opportunities they had but they ultimately coasted against a Titans side, coached by former Milton-Ulladulla Bulldog Justin Holbrook, that offered the bare minimum resistance.
"A win's a win. We wanted to build on last week and we've gone back to back to back but there's definitely improvement in us," McGregor said.
"When we build pressure we come away with points. We didn't really play the game the right way at different times, when we did we came away with good points so we're still improving.
"The combination's take time to build up and there's been a lot of movement into that spine area due to the fact we weren't really getting what we needed.
"The changes have been effective the last couple of weeks and they'll continue to improve over time if it stays that way. Kicking in the right areas were good for us today, we didn't get it right all the time but we were better than last week.
James Graham produced a typically blue-collar effort from the bench, with 12 carries for 103 metres in what may prove his last game for the Dragons after requesting a release during the week for a swansong with childhood club St Helens.
"I'm genuinely unsure, I'm not sure what's happening just yet," Graham told Fox Sports when asked if he'd played his last game in the NRL.
"The situation's pretty clear, we'll just see what happens in the next couple of days and weeks. It is my intention is to go to England and play out the season there. After that who knows.
"It was a bit weird knowing it was potentially my last game over here but, to be honest, I just wanted the get the win for the team. We've been under the pump these past couple of weeks and it's good to get the win last week.
"Coming up here was always going to be challenging but we've got two wins on the bounce, the dressing room's feeling a lot better. Credit to our coaching staff for getting two wins back to back."
A far sterner litmus test looms over the next fortnight with matches against grand finalists the Roosters and Raiders in consecutive weeks but, for at least another week, the volume on the outside noise will be turned down.
Paul McGregor definitely won't be the first coach sacked this season, despite having been at short odds in that market, with the Warriors sensationally axing coach Stephen Kearney on Saturday.
It was only three weeks ago many thought Kearney had put one of the final nails in McGregor's coaching coffin after orchestrating a faultless 18-0 win over the Dragons.
It's an illustration of how quickly things can change, with Sharks coach John Morris, Broncos coach Anthony Siebold and Cowboys coach Paul Green all arguably coming into round six under more pressure.
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Ash Taylor opened the scoring with a second-minute penalty goal after he was clipped late by Josh Kerr while kicking before Lomax crossed for the first four-pointer off a beautiful cut-out ball from Dufty, stepping Thompson all ends up to ensure his own conversion came from in front.
It gave the visitors a 6-2 lead after 18 minutes before the margin went out to 10 when newly re-signed flyer Mikaele Ravalawa crossed off a lofted ball from Norman following an error from his opposite number Phillip Sami.
Lomax made no mistake with the conversion, though the same couldn't be said of Ravalawa's next two touches, with the Fijian Test star all-too-characteristically following up his try with back to back errors.
It prevented the Dragons from building on their lead before Lomax grabbed a penalty goal after the halftime siren for a 12-point cushion at 14-2.
Jordan Pereira got the ball rolling in the second 40, producing a classy finish in the corner after a inch-perfect cut-out ball from Adam Clune.
It put the result to bed, with Boyd's late try the only highlight for the hosts as the match petered out.