ST GEORGE Illawarra coach Paul McGregor is confident the big-game experience of the club’s marquee recruits can rectify the late-game wobbles that ultimately cost his side a finals berth in 2017.
The Dragons shot out of the blocks, winning six of their first seven games to lead the competition, and sat comfortably in the top four after 13 rounds.
They ultimately dropped eight of their final 12 games in a late-season fade, culminating in a final-round defeat to Canterbury that saw them go without finals action for the fifth time in six seasons.
It left McGregor ruing his side’s inability to close out games, but he believes the addition of seasoned finals veterans, and current internationals, Ben Hunt and James Graham can remedy that next season.
“The major learning from last year is turning a dominant 40 minutes into a dominant 80 minutes,” McGregor said.
“If you look at the ladder at halftime, we were good throughout the whole year, but in the end we didn’t do enough to make the eight.
“It comes back to that game management and closing out games when you’ve got a healthy score.
“It’s just about learning from what we didn’t do well from a game management point of view.
“I feel, with the experience we’ve brought in, we’re better equipped to do that.”
After being widely panned for their attacking impotence in 2016, the Dragons finished third in for and against and scored more points than any other team in 2017.
The figures compound the frustration of missing the playoffs, but leave McGregor convinced that only subtle changes are needed to make the step up to finals football.
“I take full responsibility for how we played in 2016 which was a really rigid style of footy,” McGregor said.
“We looked at the squad we had and how we could develop our own style going into 2017. I think we did that and the blueprint’s definitely there for anyone to see.
“We dominated the first third of the competition, we were running third at the halfway-point and then were inconsistent to finish the year.
“In 2015 we led the comp after round 12, this year we were leading the comp after round eight. You don’t do that if you’re systems aren’t right, but you’ve got to be consistent.
“It’s no good being good for a short period of time and then dropping off. We’ve got to hold that intensity and that commitment for 26 weeks and that’s the challenge for every team in the NRL.”