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Dragons on fire in hammering Panthers

NZN 4/03/2017 Matt Encarnacion

St George-Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has hailed his side's new attacking style after the Dragons stunned premiership favourites Penrith 42-10 in their NRL season-opener on Saturday.

Second-rower Joel Thompson bagged his first career hat-trick and skipper Gareth Widdop scored 22 points as the Dragons registered the highest points total of round one so far.

"We've been working on playing each play instead of playing the set out, it's something where we were very rigid last year," McGregor said after the match.

"We're playing a style the boys are liking because they can play whatever's in front of them."

The new-look Dragons shocked the Panthers to lead 18-4 at halftime and then put on a show for the crowd of 7,283 at UOW Jubilee Oval with a further four tries in the second half.

For a side that copped plenty of criticism for their limp attack last season, it also topped their highest score from 2016 when they beat eventual premiers Cronulla 32-18 in round 23.

Penrith simply had no answers for a Dragons pack that strolled through the middle with embarrassing ease, scoring three first-half tries through Thompson and Jack de Belin.

Not even a freakish try to Penrith centre Waqa Blake could prevent the Dragons' big men steamrolling through the heart of the Panthers defence in the Sydney wet.

Thompson gave returning Penrith pivot Te Maire Martin a torrid time on the Panthers' right edge, barging over twice in the opening 25 minutes for an early 12-0 lead.

Martin responded with a miracle offload for Blake's one-handed put-down, but that failed to halt the Dragons' momentum as De Belin brushed past five defenders to score under the posts.

Of most concern for the Penrith coach Anthony Griffin will be a 36-9 missed tackle count, with second-rower Bryce Cartwright the main culprit with seven.

"They just got on a roll early in that first half and we couldn't hold them," Griffin said.

"At times we got back into the battle but in the end they were just far too good.

"I just thought defensively we weren't at the same intensity as they were.

"It's a credit to them. They came at us really hard on both sides of the ball with the ball and without the ball."

The home side made the visitors pay for a shockingly inept display, putting on an attacking second-half exhibition that ended in two tries for Widdop and another for Cameron McInnes.

McInnes' first try for the club was easily the evening's best, finishing off a 54th minute play that began with Josh Dugan grubbering for himself before producing a cutout pass for McCrone.

Thompson completed his hat-trick late in the game, prompting McGregor to hand promising youngster Jai Field his first taste of NRL action for the final ten minutes.

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