St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor believes his team can threaten the NRL pace-setters in the second half of the season if seasoned playmakers Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop stay healthy.
Marshall scored a try and set up three others for Euan Aitken, Tim Lafai and Joel Thompson in the Dragons' 30-18 victory over last-placed Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
"It was good to see that (Marshall) really worked hard within the team to dominate there, and the chances he had and all the guys falling into position well and playing footy with good purpose to have conviction to go into that line hard," McGregor said.
"Not only Benji, but a lot of the guys did that today."
The Dragons handed the Knights their ninth straight defeat and climbed back into the NRL top eight with their third win from their past four games.
Widdop said of his partnership with Marshall: "It always helps, especially in the halves, because the more you play together, your combination becomes stronger."
McGregor agreed: "We haven't had our regular spine playing weekly all year, so the more games they get together, the combinations come, and with no changes we just improve what we want to do and through our practice at training, we'll get better as the year goes on."
McGregor was disappointed they conceded two late tries to the Knights but was pleased with their overall performance.
"I thought we played some really nice, attractive footy, controlled the ruck well with our D, had real intent with what we were about, then we wanted to get on the bus and go home," he said.
Newcastle conceded five first-half tries to trail 22-6 at the break.
Thompson's try in the 45th minute stretched the Dragons lead to 28-6 but they took their foot off the accelerator to concede tries to Sione Matautia and Mitch Barnett.
Newcastle's strong finish was not enough to ease coach Nathan Brown's disappointment with their insipid first quarter, when they leaked three tries down their left side.
"The first half was really disappointing. It's probably the most disappointed I've been for a long time, which people might think seems strange because obviously the Cowboys and one or two of those top-four sides did a fair job on us," Brown said.
"But the Dragons are more known for their defensive capabilities and hanging in contests and grinding out wins, so I was much more disappointed today than I have been in previous weeks.
"What we can't feel good about is the fact that we outscored them in the second half and had a decent second half. That shouldn't make us feel good about ourselves after what we dished up in the first half."
The Dragons' victory meant they retained the Alex McKinnon Cup, named in honour of the injured forward who played for both clubs before he suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2014.
They next play Manly at Brookvale on July 4 before their second bye of the season.