Dragons look to erase memories of Bulldogs torture

PURPOSE: The Dragons sewed up a finals spot with their win over the Tigers last week, but coach Paul McGregor says a top-four finish is his side's goal. Picture: Adam McLean
PURPOSE: The Dragons sewed up a finals spot with their win over the Tigers last week, but coach Paul McGregor says a top-four finish is his side's goal. Picture: Adam McLean

IT became the enduring image of St George Illawarra's 2017 campaign – coach Paul McGregor hurling a pen in disgust as the siren blew fulltime on on his side's season in round 26.

That now infamous 26-20 loss to the Bulldogs saw the Dragons bundled out of the finals race, a season that promised so much early on ending in despair.

It's a moment McGregor would rather forget, though he admits he's often reminded as the footage resurfaces.

It's done so with some regularity over the last six weeks as his side battled a form slump that saw them drop five of six games.

They got back on track, and into the top four, with a 20-10 win over the Tigers last week, but McGregor concedes there's no escaping that image.

“It's a while ago but it's never a great feeling when you see the pictures of it and get reminded of it,” McGregor said.

“It is the past and you can't rectify that, it's gone.  It is what it is, you can't get it back. You certainly can learn from it and move on. 

“They've got a different coach and different players and we've got different players and systems in place now. They've won three out of their last four so we're looking at the team we've got now.

“They're defending very well, they're playing eyes-up footy and they've cut the shackles off a little bit and look like they're enjoying the way they're playing.

"Deano [Pay] has got them working pretty hard for one another and it's a real good opportunity and a challenge for us to go out and play our best.”

The Dragons overcame a hostile home crowd, and the loss of Ben Hunt to the sin-bin, in outlasting the Tigers 20-10, bouncing back from a disappointing 40-4 loss to the lowly Eels a week earlier.

It remains to be seen whether they've fully turned the corner, but McGregor said the victory was a return to the ethos that drove their strong start to year.

“It's good to go to the environment we did at Leichhardt Oval, under the circumstances we did, overcome adversity during the game and get a nice result,” McGregor said.

“It typifies the group of men I've been working with all year. When they needed to get it done, they got it done. 

“They were very disappointed post the Eels game and rightly so. We had a confronting video [session] following that. It was just an honesty [session] just around our accountability in the roles we do for one another once we cross that white stripe.

“We've been pretty honest all year. I've got a really good group that take ownership and accountability within their role. Once they saw the pictures, they weren't happy with them and they went out and did something about that.”

Slim though the chances were, last week's win ensured they won't go without finals action this season, but McGregor said a top-four finish remains the burning ambition for his side.

“Our vision and our purpose from before a ball was kicked was to finish in the top four. We're still striving to do that,”McGregor said.

“Making the finals, some would say that's an achievement, for us it's about making sure we achieve what we set out to do.”

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