Dragons coach Paul McGregor happy with bye break

Benji Marshall attempts to shrug off two Cowboys defenders on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images
Benji Marshall attempts to shrug off two Cowboys defenders on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images

They may have gathered some momentum to remain in the NRL finals hunt but Dragons coach Paul McGregor is content to see it come to a halt this week.

Finals write-offs a month ago, the Dragons enter the round 18 bye on the back of three straight wins - the latest Saturday's gutsy 27-24 win over the Cowboys at Kogarah - and will return in round 19 with some big guns back and their finals fate firmly in their own hands.

McGregor, who has put in 14-hour days since he assumed the head coaching role six weeks ago, said his players had earned a rest with their performance against the Cowboys.

He welcomed the chance to recharge their batteries for a finals tilt.

"It's a good time for the bye. We've upped our training a fair bit in the last month of footy so we've been pushing the guys pretty hard and to get a break this week ... it's a well deserved one," McGregor said.

"I think the guys have been up for a long time and players that haven't played a lot of first grade football weekly.

"For them to show that desire towards the end of the [Cowboys] game and that passion when they were down 20-14 was really good, especially after a short turnaround.

"To play five days after that against a desperate football team in the Cowboys and walk away with the two points ... I'm happy.

"We're four from our last five. If anyone spoke about that a month, they would've laughed at us. It's a credit to the guys, they've really earned the week off."

No-one has earned a break more than Dragons halves Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall who have proved instrumental in the Dragons' past three victories.

Widdop is yet to miss a minute of football for the Dragons so far this season while Marshall has worked particularly hard to get up to NRL speed in the seven weeks since his return from rugby union.

Despite finding his groove in the past fortnight, Marshall echoed the coach in welcoming the week off.

"I'm definitely due for a break. It's been a pretty tough seven weeks since I've been here," he said.

"We've been training really hard and I think it's come at a good time for us to re-evaluate and let all the boys have a rest.

"Monday night against Melbourne really took it out of us so to back it up [against the Cowboys]."

Marshall's own rise has mirrored that of his side who were touted as wooden spoon contenders when he inked his return deal seven weeks ago and he said there's been a definite lift in attitude since he joined the club.

"Just the belief in the side that we can make the semis," he said.

"Five weeks ago, I think a lot of people wrote us off but it was just about building.

"We're definitely capable of getting there. After the bye, we'll be on 20 points so that will put us somewhere near the eight but we can't get ahead of ourselves.

"If we start thinking we're there, that's when it starts getting away from us.

"If we can keep the same attitude and the same mindset, it'll go a long way towards us making it."

The Dragons were without Origin stars Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin for the match with the Cowboys, with Brett Morris still missing after he suffered a shoulder injury in Origin I.

With Dylan Farrell as 18th man on Saturday, McGregor said his side would probably be at full strength when they returned.

"Dylan's not far away. He warmed up as 18th man and if we'd had an injury there, we would have pushed him but the extra week will be good for him," he said.

"Depending on Origin and depending on the Cutters next week ... I know we've only got one guy who'll be on our injured list and that's [Tyson] Frizell. Everyone else will be back. [Brett] Morris will be back, the Origin guys will be back."


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