Dragons embracing finals pressure cooker

FIRM GRIP: Dragons prop Paul Vaughan. Picture AAP Image/Dan Peled
FIRM GRIP: Dragons prop Paul Vaughan. Picture AAP Image/Dan Peled

IT’S the figure keeping his side’s finals flame ablaze and St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor believes a handy points differential is proof his can mix it with the competition’s best.

Currently sitting ninth after 24 rounds, the Dragons are facing a pair of must-win clashes to secure a finals berth starting with Sunday’s showdown with Penrith at Pepper Stadium.

A loss would all but end their finals hopes, but a victory, and plus 87 differential, could see them leapfrog North Queensland and Manly should either lose their round 24 matches.

The healthy differential, third to only Melbourne Brisbane, also gives McGregor confidence that the Dragons can make an impact in the finals should they get there.

“It’s up to us, if we manage to get a result in both games we’ll make the finals,” McGregor said.

“30 [competition] points will get us there and our for-and-against is the third best in the competition. 

“It tells you we’re not far away, it tells you we’ve improved in a lot of areas. We just haven’t got the results that we needed at different times.

“We’ve lost a few games that we shouldn’t have. We needed to be more resilient in a few games and play for the full 80 minutes.

“It also shows how much football we’ve got in us to be the third best in for-and-against in the competition.

“When we get these last two weeks out of the way and we make finals, it proves we can foot it with anyone.”

Their precarious position on the ladder means the Dragons will be playing with the finals axe hanging over the heads, but McGregor has encouraged his troops to embrace the pressure.

“I’ve always said pressure is a privilege at this level because it means you’re at the level everyone wants to be at,” McGregor said.

“The guys have always trained with intensity and purpose but you certainly feel the sense of urgency that they know the importance of where they’re at in the season.

“They know we’ve worked hard for the last nine months to be in a situation to play finals footy. 

“[Finals] are only a couple of weeks away and that should be exciting for the players.

“It should be ‘pin your ears back and go for it, leave everything out there’. You don’t want to walk off thinking you could have done a little bit more. 

“It's not time for that, it’s time to get out there, do whatever needs to be done and doing it at your best. The result will look after itself after that.”

The Dragons preparation for their last-start loss to Brisbane was thrown into chaos after a flu virus swept through the camp in the lead-up to the clash at Suncorp Stadium.

Tyson Frizell and Nene Macdonald also suffered injuries in last week’s captain’s run but McGregor confirmed both will start on Sunday.

“Tyson’s good, he’s completed everything this week,” McGregor said.

“He was little bit ill early in the week so he was isolated but he got through everything. He trained today [Thursday] and got through the full session so he’ll be fine.

“Nene had his first training session on the park today as well so he’ll be OK. He’s got to get through captain’s run [on Saturday] but I’m sure after getting through everything today he’ll be fine to go.