Dragons clinging to hope of NRL top four finish

Hanging on: Dragons prop Russell Packer believes in their finals cause. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Hanging on: Dragons prop Russell Packer believes in their finals cause. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

IT MAY no longer be St George Illawarra’s icy graveyard, where their NRL hopes and dreams went to wither and die.

But Friday’s trip to Canberra is venturing into must-win territory if the Dragons want to keep their premiership hope alive.

The Dragons have won their past two games in the national capital, after a long-running hoodoo which frustrated and confounded a generation of NRL playing talent.

Brett Morris, in action for NSW on Wednesday night, scored three tries in round 23, 2014, as St George Illawarra beat the Raiders 34-16, finally ending a streak of 11 straight losses in Canberra.

In 2009, the ladder-leading Dragons had won eight games in a row when the Raiders halted their momentum in round 23, starting the late-season rot.

An analysis of the run to the finals shows the Dragons will almost certainly need to win six of their last eight games to make the top four.

And since the top eight format, no NRL team has won the title from outside the top four, under either the McIntyre or current finals formats. 

“I just look at it as an opportunity to be involved in finals football again,” prop Russell Packer, who will join Wests next season, said.

“It’s a great opportunity and we’ve got to take advantage of it, it’s up to the playing group to do that. Eight tough games left, if we’re good enough, we’ll be there.”

In the weeks between their State of Origin period byes, the Dragons have dropped three of their five games and only just edged out Wests Tigers and Newcastle along the way.

It’s seen them slip from third – when the Origin I teams were named – to seventh.

Their top eight spot remains relatively safe, for the time being at least, as they still hold a handy buffer of two games, plus a points differential edge, over those outside the finals places.

But they’ve also watched the competition pacesetters Melbourne, the Sharks and Roosters slip away.

In the seven seasons so far this decade, the benchmark for the top four has been set at 34 points four times, meaning the Dragons will have to win six of their remaining eight games.

In 2012, the Sea Eagles finished fourth on 36 points, then again in the top four on 35 points in 2013.

Melbourne finished fourth on 32 points in 2015, but it was in a year where the Roosters (40 points), Broncos (38) and eventual premiers North Queensland (38) dominated the season.


Dragons draw in the remaining eight rounds

R19: Friday v Raiders at GIO Stadium

R20: Sunday, July 23 v Sea Eagles at WIN Stadium

R21: Saturday, July 29 v Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium

R22: Friday, August 4 v Rabbitohs at SCG

R23: Saturday, August 12 v Titans at UOW Jubilee Oval

R24: Saturday, August 12 v Broncos at Suncorp Stadium

R25: Sunday, August 27 v Panthers at Pepper Stadium

R26: Sunday, September 3 v Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium