Last chance for Dragons ahead of sudden-death showdown

PICTURE: NRL Photos
PICTURE: NRL Photos

HE'S had plenty of headaches following his side's 38-0 loss to the Bulldogs last week, but St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor says they're headaches eight other coaches would like to have a week out from the finals.

After spending 22 of 24 rounds inside the the top four, the Dragons let it slip with the heavy loss to the Bulldogs at Kogarah that saw their own fans boo them from the park at fulltime. 

The emotional reaction has divided opinion in the aftermath but McGregor, who's copped the brunt of criticism, said the fans are entitled to to voice theirs.

“It was pretty heated on Sunday. There was a lot to play for and we didn't get the result we wanted,” McGregor said.

“We've got passionate fans and sometimes they get frustrated and hurt. When you're frustrated and hurt, it comes out and that's what the players were exposed to on the weekend.

“There were a lot of frustrated and hurt people in the shed afterwards as well. Our whole focus and process had been on finishing in the top four.

“We'd been there for 24 rounds, so it was hard pill to swallow, but it's gone. What we do next is important.”

In contrast to last season, the loss to the Dogs won't cost them a finals berth, but a loss to the Knights in Newcastle on Saturday would see them head in with just two wins from their final nine matches.

It's far from the ideal preparation for sudden death footy, but McGregor is confident his side can still mount a compelling finals charge.

“If you look at the Cowboys last year, they fell in because of us falling out and they went on and made the grand final,” McGregor said.

“We obviously take ownership of our last five weeks, there’s only been one good 80-minute performance, but we are in the finals.

“There's eight other teams next week that start their off-season and eight other coaches who'd like to be in the finals. A new competition starts in a week's time but we need a big performance this weekend first.

"We'll worry about the finals next week, and really enjoy that week, but we're one day away from playing Newcastle so we're just looking forward to that.” 

With their top four hopes dashed, McGregor says he's urged his side to play with the freedom that sparked their early season run. 

“The expectation's been pretty high, now the expectation's not there because we can't make the top four unless a miracle happens along the way,” he said.

“You probably lose a bit of confidence along the way and get a bit rigid in what you do so it's about freeing that up a bit.

“You can get away from what worked so the main thing is getting back to our style of footy and the way we played the first 16 rounds."

The limp to the finish line has upped the pressure on McGregor amid the wider coaching chaos that's engulfed the game, but he said he's not feeling uneasy about his future.

“When you've won one of your last five games and you lose an opportunity to finish in the top four there's going to be conversations around everyone's position, players coaches,” he said.

"For me it's just about what I need to do as a coach for this club and this team. I'm contracted next year, I'm happy with that.

“There's a lot of other coaches who'd like to be in my position at the moment.”

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