IT was arguably the Dragons’ best performance of the season.
A 35-10 mauling of the Sea Eagles at Fortress Brookvale in round six that took them to top spot on the ladder and was the exclamation point on a 5-1 start to the season.
Both sides were tipped to finish in the bottom four prior to the start of the season and, after that showing, the Dragons seemed the side most likely to defy those predictions.
Instead, 11 games later, it’s the Sea Eagles who sit comfortably in third spot with close losses to fellow top four combatants Melbourne and Brisbane the only blemishes on their record since that afternoon at Lottoland.
Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans recalled that loss this week, saying it helped spur his side’s surge back up the ladder.
“We actually learned a fair lesson off [the Dragons] that day,” Cherry-Evans said.
“They played really well, we had an off-day, and they really did take advantage of us. That’s our biggest loss margin-wise and I felt we learned a lot of lessons as a side that day about preparing and turning up on game day.
“They played some great football. It’s probably not a reflection of where they are at right now but we’re certainly not underestimating the Dragons. They’re good side and they have a lot of very tough individuals to contain so we’re on high alert.”
The Dragons have been on a downward trajectory since then, slipping to eighth spot on the ladder heading into the return clash at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
They risk falling out of the eight altogether should they lose, but coach Paul McGregor believes his side’s last performance against the Raiders could prove season-turning despite the golden-point loss.
“Coming off the Canberra game, it wasn’t a complete performance but there were clear signs of improvement on previous weeks,” McGregor said.
“There was evidence in our game that, when we do things well, we compete. We created three good scoring opportunities, we played more direct.
“We know where we are on the ladder and every game’s important.
“[Manly] are playing a nice brand of footy. Over the past five or six weeks they have been the most consistent side in the NRL so it’s a good challenge for us.
“We know what we’re up against but we’re really looking forward to again improving on our performance from last week and making sure we’re a little bit better than that.’’