Ghosts of 2017 fade linger for Dragons ironman

HEARTBREAKER: Jack De Belin wrestles with Canterbury's Josh Jackson in the Dragons season-ending round 26 loss to the Bulldogs. Picture: AAP
HEARTBREAKER: Jack De Belin wrestles with Canterbury's Josh Jackson in the Dragons season-ending round 26 loss to the Bulldogs. Picture: AAP

ST GEORGE Illawarra workhorse Jack de Belin hasn’t forgotten his side’s ignominious exit from last year’s finals race – and he hopes his Dragons teammates haven’t either.

Early-season pace-setters, a finals berth looked in the Dragons keeping at the midway point of 2017, only for their grip on the top eight to slip via an indifferent run home.

A finals spot was still there for the taking in round 26, where a victory over the 12th-placed Bulldogs would have guaranteed their passage to post-season.

History shows they led 18-14 midway through the second half only to surrender two late tries and go out of 2017 with a whimper.

The loss gifted eventual grand finalists North Queensland a finals reprieve that took them to within one win of the premiership.

One of the Dragons top performers throughout the season, de Belin said the loss still burns in the heat of preseason.

“Straight after that game I was heartbroken, it probably stayed with me for a couple of weeks there,” de Belin said.

“We had so much more to play for than the Bulldogs did. They were already getting ready for their mad Monday. We had so much to play for, we had a guaranteed finals spot if we’d won, and it just came down to us not wanting it enough in the end.

“I feel like when we were on we could beat anyone. We showed that at the start of the year, we were written off early and we really came out firing and put some teams in their place.​

“Towards the midway point and the back end of the season we never really got back into our groove. We just couldn’t string consistent performances together and it hurt us.

“I was pretty disappointed and I hope all the other boys have the same feeling because we're ripping into the preseason and it should be in the back of our minds going into next year not to let that happen again.

“You can’t hold onto something like that for too long but hopefully it does add a bit of fuel to the fire.”

The late-season fade saw the club go without finals action for the fifth time in six years with the club’s only finals appearance another loss to the Bulldogs in golden point in 2015.

For de Belin it remains the lone post-season appearance in his 129-game career and, while he’ll again be looking to press his NSW selection claims, the 26-year-old said turning the clubs finals tide is the main driver in 2018.

“There’s no reason I can’t be playing for the Blues and Australia, they’re my big individual goals, but first and foremost is the Dragons and getting us back to the play-offs,” de Belin said.

“This will be my eighth year of first grade and I’ve only ever played one finals game. No player should be comfortable with that. I came in at the back end of Wayne Bennett’s time and saw the real winning culture we had there.

“We lost our way a little bit there but I feel like we’re building our way back to that now and hopefully we can become a powerhouse and build a little dynasty for the years to come.”