ST George Illawarra are headed to the finals, but they should only pack an overnight bag if their performance in a 38-0 loss to Canterbury at Kogarah on Sunday is anything to go by.
The Dragons fan who lobbed his scarf at the players as they left the park, before subsequently being escorted from the ground by police, left no doubt as to his feelings.
The other fans who booed their side from the paddock at halftime after the visitors posted three unanswered tries, including a double to young flyer Reimis Smith, were equally vocal.Smith finished with a hat-trick as the Bulldogs woke the ghost of last year’s final-round capitulation, with last week’s 20-10 win over the Tigers looking like very thing paper over cracks
The fans who stayed until fulltime seemed to have done so purely to give it to their side as they left the park – including the disgruntled punter who lobbed his scarf. It left retiring stalwart Jason Nightingale to say his goodbyes with an empty hill as a backdrop in what was likely his last game for the club after dislocating elbow early in the second half.
Coach Paul McGregor couldn’t hide his disappointment at the home fans reception post-match.
“It’s shattering. They pay to come and watch the game, it’s very disappointing,” McGregor said.
“It obviously didn’t go to script. We had a lot to play for on the back Lance [Thopmpson] passing through the week, top four position, Jase’s farewell to Kogarah, last home game… we just didn’t go out and get the job done.
“We played with a lot of arrogance in our game early in the year and had real good commitment with the ability to absorb pressure and then build pressure on the opposition. We’re just not doing that at the moment.
If McGregor was the most shattered man at the ground, stand-in skipper Tyson Frizell was a close second, saying his side didn’t treat the match with the respect it deserved.
“It’s hard to cop that from the fans but [it’s] rightly so,” Frizell said.
“We can cop losing a game when we’re doing our best but, for what we had to play for, to play like that and not give ourselves any opportunity at all and send of Gypsy [Nightingale] like that is pretty disappointing.
“We had a goal to finish in the top four, I don’t know if that’s out the window now, but to have a guy like Jason in your team who’s done so much and not pay him that respect was very disappointing.”
It was the Dragons sixth loss in their past eight outings and sees them drop to sixth on the ladder. The upset losses suffered by the Rabbitohs and Roosters on Saturday keep them in the top four hunt, but they look in that fight on numbers alone, with the Warriors and Broncos sitting behind them on for and against, but well ahead of them on form, with one game remaining in the regular season.
To make matters worse, centre Euan Aitken looks likely join Gareth Widdop and Paul Vaughan in a star-studded casualty ward after tearing his hamstring midway through the opening stanza Nightingale’s looks over after dislocating his elbow.
Cam McInnes was forced from the the field for an HIA with 24 minutes to play after wearing the knee of Danny Fualalo and didn’t return, with Jack de Belin playing out the match at dummy-half despite McInnes passing the assessment.
A loss to the Knights in Newcastle next week could see them drop to eighth and possibly face a dreaded week-one trip to Brisbane or Auckland, but Frizell says his side can turn things around.
“We’ve got a similar squad to what we had at the start of the year and that was no fluke,” Frizell said.
“We’re going through a tough period at the moment but there’s no reason we can’t get back to that form. We’re losing a few key players at the moment but that happens in footy.
“We’ve got to move on quickly, there’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves now. It is very disappointing but there’s, hopefully, a lot of games still to come and we need to fix it quickly.”
Josh Morris got things started when Lachlan Lewis put the first four-pointer on a platter with a pinpoint kick in the 17th minute, with Kerrod Holland converting for a 6-0 lead.
Smith went 80 metres to grab his side’s second try, burning Matt Dufty in process as the lead swelled to 12 on the back of Holland’s conversion.
Smith produced a classy finish to a sweeping backline move in the Bulldogs next set, with Holland continuing his faultless afternoon off the tee to give his side an 18-point buffer at the interval.
After a sluggish start to the second half, Smith again scorched Dufty on his second 80-metre run to the line to push the lead out to an unanswered 24 points, prompting most of the home fans to head for the exits.
Brett Morris added his name to the sheet with a 76th minute try before Ofahiki Ogden completed the rout with a barge over effort two minutes from time.