Goal kicking importance not lost on backups
Dragon Gareth Widdop (in doubt) and Bulldog Trent Hodkinson's absences would impact any team, but when you take into account the loss of their respective goal kicking prowess ahead of their clubs' elimination finals clash, it just makes things intriguing.
In their place Tim Lafai and Tim Browne have stepped up to the plate for Hodkinson, while Josh Dugan goal kicked for the first time in two years for Widdop – producing mixed results.
Lafai missed his two attempts while Dugan sprayed three of six, though the biggest surprise came from sharpshooting front-rower Browne who kicked three from three.
"Browney's been walking around the locker room with his kicking tee on his head and definitely the boys are giving it to me," Lafai laughed. "He's pretty happy about himself and why wouldn't you be."
Dragons fullback Dugan has been practicing all week in hope of improving his 50 per cent accuracy, with Widdop still a chance of returning from a quad injury.
"There were a couple of things that I pinpointed [that went wrong]. I hadn't kicked in a game for two years and I was worried for the first couple about where it was going which threw my technique out of the window," Dugan told NRL.com.
"But the ones I did hit well I knew what I was doing right and I have to focus on that. The biggest thing for me is after a try, I just have to get my breath back and stay calm.
"As much as I shank a few it was good to blow the cobwebs off and get that first game out of the way."
Practice makes perfect for these second-stringers, not that Lafai has really had a chance this season with him rehabilitating the knee of his kicking leg for the most part.
The decision to take the goal kicking from the Bulldogs' usual back-up Moses Mbye was one also to ease the pressure on the 22-year-old's shoulders.
"I was happy with the decision [for Moses] not to kick on the weekend because I guess he wanted to focus on, with Hokko gone and Josh's [Reynolds] first game back, Moses wanted to make sure he was directing the team properly," Lafai said.
"It's understandable for him not to want the extra pressure. Losing Hokko is a severe one for us so I have to practice [goal kicking] again now. It's important too because every two points [you kick] go a long way in the finals."
This article first appeared on NRL.com