Dragons build foundation on ‘great wall of Wayne’

St George Illawarra are on course to make history as the greatest defensive team of the NRL era.Dubbed the “Wall of Wayne”, the Dragons under coach Wayne Bennett have conceded just 215 points this year – an average of 10.8 per game. It surpasses the tough-tackling efforts Melbourne produced on their way to grand finals in 2007 and 2008. Full coverage of the Dragons It also ranks as the second-best performance by a team since the 10m rule was introduced in 1992.Only Manly’s all-conquering team of 1996 had a superior record of stopping points, letting in just 191 in 22 games, or a remarkable 8.68 points per match.If the Dragons concede fewer than 62 points in their final four games – against the Sea Eagles, Canberra, Newcastle and South Sydney – they will earn their place as the best defensive outfit since the NRL started in 1998.Regarded as the best defensive centre of the decade, St George Illawarra’s Matt Cooper yesterday warned the team can improve on its impressive record this season.”In the last couple of weeks we’ve let some easy tries in out on the left side, so we want to fix that,” Cooper said, referring to the side of the field he defends on.”I think our right side is going really well this year.”Preparing for Monday night’s showdown with Manly at Kogarah, Cooper said the most notable part of Mark Gasnier’s return had been his commitment in defence.Gasnier had 18 months out of the game playing rugby union in France before coming back to the Dragons last month.”He’s picked up his defence so much and we’ve got that much confidence in the side,” he said.Cooper said the Dragons had learned the lessons of seasons past. Last year they crashed out of the finals series with consecutive losses, having won the minor premiership on the back of a solid defensive structure which conceded 329 points – or 13.7 per game.Four points clear at the top of the NRL ladder with four rounds remaining, St George Illawarra are again on track to snare the JJ Giltinan Shield this season.Cooper said the Dragons needed to take advantage of their place on the ladder and earn a week off during the play-offs with a qualifying final victory.”If we end up first and win our first semi then we’ll get a week’s break and that would be good for us,” Cooper said.”But at the moment we’re just going one game at a time and looking at Manly.”We’re treating this as a pretty serious game – they’re a quality side and will be a good test for us.”
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