A heartwarming moment of sportsmanship put a sheen on the most satisfying NRL win Stephen Kearney has been a part of as coach of the Warriors on Saturday night.
After beating St George Illawarra 18-0, the Warriors gathered as a group while Dragons skipper Cameron McInnes addressed the team to thank them for their sacrifices to restart the NRL season.
The Warriors have spent four weeks in Australia and are likely to be here until at least round nine to keep the competition running after the coronavirus shutdown.
And despite the uneven scoreline, it was a gracious gesture from the Dragons who are hurting after three straight losses to start the season.
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Kearney said the goodwill shown to the club from other NRL clubs has been humbling — typified by the Sydney Roosters loaning Poasa Faamausili to the club for four weeks, although they were yet to win a game themselves before this weekend.
The 24-year-old will join the Warriors on Sunday as part of a revolutionary loan deal to help the injury-hit team while staying isolated in Australia.
Saturday's win was the first of the season for the Warriors and Kearney said it was satisfying after the ordeal his team has endured over the past few months.
"I was pretty pleased for the boys. I'm really proud of the way they've gone about the last couple of months," Kearney said.
"The way they've responded in the last couple of months, they've just got on with the job and that's what I was most pleased about.
"It means a great deal to not only the group but to families back home. We've got a footy club that's still operating, all our footy staff back home, administration and all of our fans.
"I know there would have been a lot of them watching it was really pleasing to put in a performance they can be proud of."
Meanwhile, under-fire St George coach Paul McGregor lashed his team for a lack of passion and promised to swing the axe if they continue to underperform. Saturday's loss to the Warriors marked the Dragons' worst start to an NRL season in seven years and follows hard on the heels of their worst season as a joint venture in 2019.
McGregor is now under pressure to keep his job just three games into a two-year contract extension after six seasons in charge.
Although he denied he is feeling any pressure, McGregor said players need to take personal responsibility for their effort and passion for the jersey.
"It's got to come from within," he said. "Belief is a by-product of success too and we've lost a few games and we're coming off a not a great year.
"We've got to find that. Passion is being excited to play, it's about being in the moment and going after it so that comes down to the individual.
"The scrimmages at training, the intensity that we've trained at, is not transferring on to the field on game day.
"The passion, the excitement, the competitiveness needs to be there, shown by everyone." While the Warriors were slick and near faultless, the Dragons were disorganised in attack and failed to fire a shot when in threatening field position.
"Attitude is by-product of belief and today at times they looked like strangers out there," he said.
"We didn't do anything at speed and a couple of the tries they scored needed to be defended and they weren't. Defence is all about attitude.
"When we had some field position we turned over possession twice so we didn't play with any composure there either."
Leading into the game players were told no one's position is safe, and McGregor said he would consider making changes for the next round clash with Canterbury. "I'd like to reflect a little bit and watch the game again and talk to my staff," he said.
"There's no reserve grade now there's only one way for players to get an opportunity and that's by performing on game day.
"If we feel the right adjustment to the team needs to be done, there'll be changes.
"If we feel there's no right adjustment we'll keep the 17, but it will be a discussion point this week."
QUESTION CLEARY WON'T ANSWER
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary refused to be drawn into talk about his son on Saturday, following a two-game ban during the break for misleading the integrity unit on a social-distancing breach.
The Panthers will be without Nathan Cleary for the season restart after photos and videos emerged of him breaking self-isolation rules before the NSW halfback then compounded things by lying about his breach.
Speaking ahead of the Panthers' clash against Newcastle today, Ivan didn't want to address his son's absence.
"I think he's probably hogged the limelight for long enough so we might leave him out of this week," Ivan said, before he was pressed further.
"I hate to repeat myself but we're not going to talk about him this week."
Instead, Ivan has told his team it can't be Matt Burton's job alone to fill Nathan's boots. The Panthers will run out the least experienced halves combination of any team this year against the Knights, with Nathan's absence to leave Burton partnering Jarome Luai.
The pair have never played together outside of pre-season trials, with Sunday just Burton's second NRL match and Luai's 20th.
But Ivan said the emphasis had to be on the entire team performing around the young duo against a Knights side also missing Kalyn Ponga.
"As much as it is Jarome's job (to be the senior half), it's everyone's job to do their job properly," Cleary said.
"We're not going to rely on Jarome or Burto, and we're not going to rely on (hooker) Api Koroisau.
"It's going to be a team performance.
"We've got young halves, but what we've seen so far on the training paddock and in their limited time in first grade, these guys are very capable."
Penrith let five-eighth James Maloney head to the English Super League at the end of last year, while back-up half Tyrone May also remains suspended. Nathan's absence will also leave Penrith without a recognised goalkicker, with Ivan joking it would be a case of "scorer kicks" on Sunday.
Luai has previously taken the tee when Maloney and Cleary were both out for State of Origin in 2017.
But the coach has no doubt Burton has shown what it takes in the past 12 months to rise to the occasion.
The 20-year-old starred outside Nathan in his debut at five-eighth last year, setting up a try in a 26-20 win over Cronulla.
The Dubbo junior was also man of the match in NSW's under-20s Origin win over Queensland last year.
"The bonus is we've had a few weeks of preparation for this game," Ivan said. "We have had a lot of time to get our combinations going for this week. "(Matt) had that one game last year. What that did show he's got the temperament.
"He's trained with us all pre-season and handled that really well. He's fortunate to have a couple of weeks up his sleeve learning his role for this game.
"We're not expecting that he wins us this game.
"But we're confident in his ability and his character. We just want him to go out there and do his role for the team."