Dragons' nerves on edge as axe hangs over squad

Dan Hunt during training  at WIN stadium on Friday. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Dan Hunt during training at WIN stadium on Friday. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

St George Illawarra prop Dan Hunt admits the Dragons' misfiring stars have been put on notice before the side's make-or-break clash against Parramatta on Saturday afternoon.

Lauded as top-eight material after being early season table toppers, the Dragons will be condemned to the bottom four heading into their first bye if they can't topple a resurgent Eels at Pirtek Stadium.

And coach Steve Price's intention to wield the axe if the Dragons turn in a further sub-par effort like the one against the Bulldogs, in which he labelled his side "soft", has his squad on edge.

"Obviously you take it seriously if the coach says there are going to be changes," Hunt said. "I think we've been attacked personally and as footballers and it doesn't feel good.

"We need to get out there and fix it for ourselves and for the team. After a few bad performances from us any spot is available."

Having dropped five of their last six matches, the Dragons aren't likely to be too hampered as clubs prepare for the exodus of representative players to State of Origin commitments.

Brett Morris and Trent Merrin are considered locks for the NSW side, while Josh Dugan faces an uphill battle to retain his No 1 jumper given Jarryd Hayne's blistering form.

The Dugan-Hayne face-off will be one of several intriguing battles at Parramatta.

All that will be of little consolation to St George Illawarra, whose pride was dented and desire publicly questioned during a turbulent month.

"There are going to be some ups and there are going to be some downs," Hunt said.

"Everyone was on our bandwagon when we won three in a row. Now everyone wants to start bagging us.

"I just think we need to stick together and keep working hard.

"We're a great football club and a proud team.

"We've got some good players and we'll be fine."

Dragons back-rower Will Matthews conceded the much-maligned St George Illawarra pack vowed to avoid a repeat of the Bulldogs mauling.

Matthews missed the clash but won a recall for just his second NRL start this season.

"I think the guys had a good look at themselves," he said.

"No footy player wants to be called soft. It's probably the harshest criticism you can get.

"We need to prove the coach and fans wrong and put on a good display."

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