ST GEORGE Illawarra skipper Gareth Widdop admits the thought of missing the finals for the fifth time in six years seems unfathomable for a side that looked odds-on to finish in the top four at the mid-point of the season.
It is, however, a reality for the Dragons following their shock 21-14 loss to Newcastle on Saturday that leaves them hovering on the edge of the top eight ahead of their Friday night clash with South Sydney this week.
Ninth-placed Penrith, who take on Wests Tigers on Sunday, have the Dragons firmly in their sights, with their clash at Pepper Stadium in round 24 looming as a finals decider for both teams currently on 24 competition points.
It could prove immaterial if the Dragons can’t beat the Rabbitohs at the SCG on Friday, where a a loss could see them drop out of the top eight for the first time this season.
It would be an uphill battle to climb back in and Widdop was frank in discussing the prospect of going without finals action.
“It’s a cliche that you don’t look too far ahead but it’s why we all play this game, to play in finals,” Widdop said.
“We all know we’ve got to win games from here on in. That’s the fact of it. We don’t need to sit there and look at the ladder to know we we need to do this or that.
“It’s no secret we need to be winning games and, if you want to have a run in the finals, you need to be going in with some momentum anyway.
“That’s what we need to be doing these next couple of weeks and making sure we don’t dish up what we did on the weekend because it was unacceptable and not up to our standards.”
The loss to Newcastle was the Dragons eighth in their past 12 games, but Widdop said it “definitely” the most disappointing, particularly after seemingly righting the ship against Manly a week earlier.
“It was certainly very, very disappointing especially after the previous two weeks where we got back to doing what we were doing at the start of the year,” Widdop said.
“It’s been this year for us a little bit at the moment, inconsistent performances.
“We’ve had a few good games and then we’ve had a poor game and this competition you’ve got to be consistent. That’s what the top teams are doing.
“We had some tough losses, we had Roosters and Cronulla early on and golden point against Canberra so we’ve had a few close games.
“We’re confident when we are playing well we can beat anyone. We’ve shown that this year, we’ve just got to get back to that, doing the simple things well and completing well.
Coach Paul McGregor was vocal in his criticism of two key decisions from the bunker in the loss to the Knights, but Widdop insisted his side have moved on.
“It’s gone now, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Widdop said.
“It would've been nice if they’d all been tries but we’ve got to move on.
“We take responsibility as well. When you’re completing at 60 per cent it’s just not good enough to win games.”