Almanac Rugby League – Weyman sets the Dragon’s tone

What proved to me that Wayne Bennett is a coaching genius was the signing of Michael Weyman when he headed to the Dragons in 2009.

For the record, I was aware of Bennett’s record of success with the Broncos (being a Dragons fan in 1992 and 1993, it’s impossible not to). But it was only in a distant, academic way. See, I don’t care much about teams that aren’t the Dragons, so I don’t pay much attention beyond big picture stuff when it comes  to other teams. You know, “Broncos – premierships”, “Storm – wrestling cheats”, “Souths – over-rated every season”. That sort of stuff.

I got an up close and personal view of Benny’s genius, and nothing illustrated that more perfectly than getting Weyman to head down the highway fromCanberratoWollongong. When I heard he’d gone after Weyman, I thought Bennett was a loony. This was a short-tempered perpetually injured forward – the Canberra Raiders bellboy spent more time on the field than Weyman did.

But history has proved me so very wrong and Bennett so very right.  Weyman went from a big balding guy best known for a brain explosion that saw him bash up Daniel Conn to a guy who is still big and balding but with Origin and Kangaroo jerseys in his closet and a premiership ring on his finger. Not to mention a guy who is a whole lot more polite to Daniel Conn.

Weyman also serves as the best indicator yet that the 201 Dragons are back. Most match reports start at the opening kick off but I’m going all the way to the 78th minute of the game against the Panthers, where the score is (spoiler alert!)  32-12. The Panthers, who played a “hey, we’re not in the finals so we can throw the ball around with abandon” style of footy for the whole game, were 10m from their line. They spread the ball to the Dragons right where we were short.

The ball ended up in the hands of centre Junior Vaivai, who spotted lots of vacant real estate ahead and headed north. Twenty metres later he’s brought down from behind by Weyman, who had begun chasing as soon as he saw the overlap. Keep in mind that there are just two minutes to go and the Dragons have a 20-point lead. Keep in mind that Big Mick had just played a strong  game and would have been buggered. Keep in mind that he could have left Vaivai for a much faster centre or winger to chase down and no-one would have thought badly of him.

And yet, with the game not on the line, with no expectation from anyone that a prop should chase a centre, Weyman hotfooted it after him (I’m sure Vaivai’s team-mates kept reminding him after the game that a prop forward caught him) and made the tackle. That’s the sort of effort that the Dragons were once renowned for, the effort that had gone missing in recent weeks. It’s doing it yourself rather than slacking off and leaving it for a team-mate.

And it was indicative of the way the St George Illawarra side defended for the bulk of the match. The Panthers had a lot of early ball way down our end of the field, an area that has virtually guaranteed the opposition would be let in for a try. Yet tonight, the Dragons built on better defensive efforts from the past two weeks and backed each other up. They pushed across to fill in gaps on the inside, they moved wide to cover for their outside players and they kept the Panthers out.

Then at the 16th minute, we make it into their quarter for the first time and Brett Morris scores a try in the corner after the ball was shifted from one side of the field to the other. Just over 10 minutes later, we’re back and BMoz is over the stripe for his second. Amazingly, with the game 30 minutes gone we’ve been tackled just twice inside the Panthers 20m and we’re up 12-0. It’s a stat that says something very good about our defence and attack (or maybe something very bad about the Panthers’).

While the Panthers never gave up on their expansive style of play, they didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 52nd minute, when Blake Austin got a fortuitous bat-back from David Simmons to scoot over untouched. That took the score to 12-6 and the big question was “How would the Dragons respond?”. During their recent slump, the Dragons leaked second-half points like a rusty Datsun 180B leaks oil. And yet here, they sent a message. Just five minutes later, hardman Beau Scott stands in a tackle and drops an offload over the head of  Trent Waterhouse and into the arms of Jamie Soward (who had to jump to take the pass). The Mighty Morphin Power Ranger crossed near the posts for an 18-6 scoreline.

Soward, who stood up to be counted after a few weeks of subpar efforts, then fired a cut-out pass to Jason Nightingale two minutes later. Nightingale, the most consistent player the Dragons have, tiptoed down the touchline to score in the corner. Soward misses his first shot for a 22-6 lead.

But the Panthers aren’t done just yet. With warhorse Petero Civoneciva on the bench with injury in his last game for Penrith, the Panthers keep coming, fullback Lachlan Coote popping up on the end of a chain of quick passes close to the line to touch down. The score is now 22-12 and the question pops up again – “how would the Dragons respond?”.

Same as last time, actually. Eight minutes later, Soward attacks the short side, puts up a chip which Matt Cooper catches and crashes down over the line. The last try, to Mitch Rein, occurs in the 77th minute from an odd set play from a scrum. Forward Adam Cuthbertson feeds the scrum and passes to Soward who then flings it to Darius Boyd, who puts up a chip. I’m not sure who the kick was for but it ended up being Rein’s after the kick ricochets off a defender.

And then, a minute or so later, Weyman chases down Vaivai and ends a game that will have a few teams in the finals starting to worry about the Dragons.

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