The Illawarra South Coast Dragons have gotten off to a flying start in the opening round of the 2021 Andrew Johns Cup.
The Dragons came away as 22-point victors over the Western Rams at Cowra's Sid Kallas Oval on a perfect, sunny Sunday morning for football.
Nerves for the first game of the season were apparent, with the Rams knocking on in their first set, only for the Dragons to drop the ball on their first hit up in reply.
While the Rams managed to get plenty of possession early in the contest, they were unable to convert it into points.
In contrast, the Dragons capitilised early, through some quick hands and strong running, with Toby Rumble crossing the line in the 6th minute.
Handling errors seemed to plague both sides, however the Dragons continued to capitalise on their attacking chances with Cooper Harrison crossing in the 16th minute and Billy Hahn in the 25th.
The scoreline could have been a whole lot worse for the Rams, with only one conversion slotting through the posts in the first half on the boot of Clay Baldock.
While the break gave both sides a chance to settle, the second half followed a similar vein to the first.
Intensity and intent had increased, but errors from both sides meant a failure to build pressure and points.
South Coast again made the most of their few opportunities, with Byron Pitt crossing the strip in the 27th minute, Samson McAllister-Wood in the 45th and Bailey Marks 54th.
Conversions again remained the Dragons' Achilles heel, with no extras being added to any of their four pointers in the second half.
It wasn't until 59th minute that Western managed to cross the stripe, through a third tackle kick from five-eighth Fletcher Hunt 45 metres out.
The kick was taken cleanly by the Rams fullback Ronan Hunt-Cameron and quickly passed on to centre Malakai Folau for the put down.
Some ill discipline also sneaked into the Rams game, with Cody Crouch and Folau placed on report.
Rams' coach, Tony Woolnough, said his side didn't do themselves any favours.
"It's very disappointing, we didn't train like that, that's not what we were about and we can be a whole lot better than that," he said.
"There were too many mistakes, you can't give a good side like that much possession and expect to win a football game.
"There were way too many mistakes, too many penalties, poor discipline and those two combined, it's a disaster."
He said simple fixes before next week would put the side in good stead.
"Just ball possession would be a start and there's a bit of discipline to go with that," he said.
"We're a much better side than that, we're a much better side.
"Illawarra are good but we made them look better than they really were."
On the flip side Dragons coach Aaron Hertsch was happy with the performance put on by his side.
"The defensive display today was pretty good considering our warm up games weren't that great but they really applied themselves today," he said.
"The defence won it for us. Our front rower Noah (McNally) was really good and I thought the back end of that second half, our halfback (Jackson Rieck) lifted up."
Hertsch said his side was well placed for their next match but there was some work to be done.
"It's definitely something we can work on (handling errors), our completions were down but I think they just hung in there and it got them through," he said.
"We've got the Tigers next week so that will be another challenge in itself.
"They're a bit bigger team and more physical through the middle so we'll have to fix our defence up a little bit and our contact."
- ILLAWARRA SOUTH COAST DRAGONS26 (Toby Rumble, Cooper Harrison, Billy Hahn, Byron Pitt, Samson McAllister-Wood, Bailey Marks tries; Clay Baldock) defeated WESTERN RAMS4 (Malakai Folau try)