Ben Hunt already making a difference to St George Illawarra Dragons attack: Jason Nightingale

St George Illawarra Dragons winger Jason Nightingale has admonished himself for failing to score in Saturday night’s Charity Shield loss but believes the fact he had three tries disallowed is a promising sign of things to come with Ben Hunt in the team.

Nightingale was denied three times by the video referee in the 22-18 loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Mudgee after being ruled to have put a hand into touch on one occasion, losing the ball over the line on another and being held back by Robert Jennings while chasing a kick.

The last one resulted in Jennings being sin-binned but match officials decided against awarding a penalty try as they could not be sure Nightingale would have beaten Dane Gagai to the ball.

“It’s the wingers’ job to score tries and I definitely bombed that second one, it is just a case of hanging on to the ball,” Nightingale said.

However, the Kiwi international said playing outside Hunt on the right wing meant he was likely to get many more chances this season, while he had also freed up five-eighth Gareth Widdop to work with the players on the left side of the ruck.

Winger Nene McDonald and fullback Matt Dufty scored tries on the left after receiving passes from Widdop but Hunt repeatedly created opportunities on the right edge, including a cross-field chip taken by an unmarked Nightingale only for his finger to glance the sideline.

Dragons halfback Ben Hunt.
Dragons halfback Ben Hunt.
©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“That is the sort of thing he can recognise. It wasn’t a set play, it was just something he saw and reacted to,” Nightingale said of Hunt’s kick.

“Things like that create opportunities and I am very much looking forward to a fruitful year outside him because he will be able to create those type of opportunities on that edge.”

Despite the Dragons’ only second-half try being scored after Leeson Ah Mau crashed through the defence near the Rabbitohs line, Nightingale said the players and coaching staff were confident in their attacking ability with Hunt calling the shots.

“I don’t think our attack is a problem at the moment. We are creating plenty of opportunities and we are all seeing plenty of ball, which is great.”

However, their defence is causing concern, particularly after the ease with which Damien Cook and John Sutton broke into the clear around the ruck, and Nightingale said improvement was needed before the round one Telstra Premiership clash with the Brisbane Broncos at Jubilee Oval on March 8.

“It is the way that we are conceding metres and the way we are conceding points that is alarming,” Nightingale said.

“That needs to be addressed but I don’t think it is too big a thing, we have done plenty of contact at training.

“We haven’t change anything at training from last year, if anything we have probably done more. It is just that physicality on game day.”

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