THE wheels have officially fallen off the Dragons top-four bus, with skipper Gareth Widdop injured in a demoralising 40-4 loss to last-placed Parramatta on Saturday night.
It's hard to imagine a night that could've gone worse, with Widdop leaving the field with a dislocated shoulder 12 minutes before halftime with his side trailing 10-0 and down to 12 men after Cam McInnes was sin-binned.
Widdop looked in a world of pain leaving the field after picking up the injury attempting to clean up a grubber from Mitch Moses in his own in-goal, the blow souring an already bitter pill as their campaign hit rock bottom.
Club medical staff popped the shoulder back in in the sheds but the England Test star is now looking at a lengthy stint on the sideline next to star prop Paul Vaughan, who was a frustrated spectator at ANZ Stadium.
Widdop's injury was the low point of a horror first half that saw the Dragons trail 22-0 on the back of a hat-trick from Jarryd Hayne and a 7-1 penalty count that cost them McInnes for 10 minutes midway through the first 40.
It saw them make almost twice the amount of tackles as the Eels, with just 35 per cent of the ball, as Hayne and Moses ran rampant in a performance that left the blue and golf faithful wondering where it's been all year.
It was the Dragons fifth loss from their last six games and sees them drop out of the top four for the first time this season following Penrith's incredible escape act against Gold Coast in Saturday's afternoon fixture.
Their seemingly favourable run home suddenly looks daunting, with the top four finish that appeared fait accompli six weeks ago slipping rapidly from their grasp – if it hasn't slipped through already with just three games left to play.
Coach Paul McGregor was frank in his assessment post-match.
“That score-line is very ugly. It's different [to other losses], you're playing against a side that's running 16th and they put a score on you,” McGregor said.
“I'm just disappointed with some areas of our game at the moment that we need to fix. I thought our line-speed was good, I thought we were running nice and hard with the footy, however, to win games you need possession and you need to build pressure and we didn't do either.
“You can't have that many errors in a game, let some really soft tries in a game and, on the back end of a penalty count, have no possession. Obviously at some stage in that second half you're going to pay for it.
"We're all disappointed, I'm the leader of that group so I'm most disappointed. We've got a few players that are down on confidence. That can happen, we've got to make sure we manage that and regroup come Monday because that's not acceptable.”
McGregor said Widdop would go for scans on Sunday morning but admitted the injury's a concerning one.
“He's not good, his shoulder's popped out and come back in,” McGregor said.
“I can't answer [how serious it is] our performance manager's just told me it's popped out and gone back in, which is great. He'll have scans first thing [Sunday] and we'll know a lot more tomorrow afternoon.”
Hayne had a double inside the first 11 minutes, the first off a long-ball from Moses just three minutes in. His second came eight minutes later after Michael Jennings streaked away down the right flank, the ball traveling through multiple sets of hands before ending up in Hayne's for the finish.
With the penalty count mounting, McInnes was dispatched 15 minutes before the break, with Widdop gingerly leaving the park three minutes later with his arm dangling by his side.
George Jennings brushed through some flimsy defence from Jack de Belin and Luciano Leilua in the next set to extend the margin to 16 before Hayne's third try off a grubber from Moses 90 seconds before the break gave the hosts a 22-point buffer.
Leillua provided a flicker of resistance four minutes after the resumption, snatching a Ben Hunt kick out of the air for his side's first try, but Clint Gutherson's four-pointer four minutes later swung things straight back the Eels’ way.
Gutherson's try came off the boot of Moses, who did it all himself with a weaving 40-metre dash to the line to extend the lead to 34-4 with still half an hour to play.
Siosaia Vave's try two minutes from time completed the rout, but most of the red v faithful who made the trip to Homebush had already left.