St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale claims criticism of the team and coach Steve Price leading into the new NRL season has served as inspiration for the Dragons’ red-hot start to 2014.
Price, who’s off-contract at the end of this campaign, has failed to guide the Red-V to the finals since taking over from Wayne Bennett in 2012 and was rumoured to be facing the axe mid last season.
Last year’s failure to make the top-eight was the first time in the joint-venture’s history they’ve missed out in successive seasons.
And the knives were sharpened once again when the Dragons were crushed by South Sydney in last month’s Charity Shield and named one of the favourites for the wooden spoon.
However, after two rounds, it’s Price’s side that sit top of the ladder thanks to big wins over the Wests Tigers and the Warriors.
“It’s been a good start and we needed that to take a bit of pressure away from the place,” Nightingale told AAP.
“Souths are a great team, one of best in the competition. But to hear some of the things said after the Charity Shield about the team and the coach was hard to take and a bit ridiculous. I guess it does fire you up.
“But you can’t beat yourself up about a trial game, it’s bit ridiculous.”
New Zealand international Nightingale was part of the 2010 grand final-winning side and victory over Cronulla on Saturday at Remondis Stadium would ensure their best start since that memorable season.
However, he knows defeat against an injury-plagued Sharks will lead to more criticism.
“You’re definitely jumping the gun early if you say the pressure has gone. It’s still there,” he said.
“But at the same time you can’t sit there and pat yourself on the back after two games. It’s far too early.”
The Dragons have won on three of their last five visits to their local rivals and go into the game with new signing Gareth Widdop in fine form.
England five-eighth Widdop has been a revelation since his arrival from Melbourne, helping the Dragons clock up 73 points in two games.
In contrast, last year saw Price’s side score 30 points or more on just one occasion and it took five rounds to eclipse their current tally.
Nightingale said Widdop has been a big factor and is impressed at how well he’s settled at a new club so quickly.
“He brings a lot of direction and he’s happy to play off the cuff as well,” he said.
“Our side definitely has a lot more points in it off the back of him and our finishers have done a lot better as a result.”
Having gone to Cronulla and ground out a win after losing their opening three games last year Nightingale fears the tables being turned by the Sharks, who have several players out, but welcome back Todd Carney from injury.
“We’ve played them in past seasons, really had our backs to the wall and got away with a win so we know what it’s like and have to be wary of them,” he said.
“They have a few out but that is not going to change too much. It’s a local derby.”