Dragons 2018: Pereira making every single moment count

GOOD SHOT: Dragons winger Jordan Pereira is mobbed by teammates after his hit on Knights forward Mitch Barnett in round 25. Picture: AAP
GOOD SHOT: Dragons winger Jordan Pereira is mobbed by teammates after his hit on Knights forward Mitch Barnett in round 25. Picture: AAP

THE tackle that turned a season? It remains to be seen, but if the Dragons can continue their remarkable finals resurgence against the Rabbitohs this week, Jordan Pereira's shot on Knights forward Mitch Barnett a fortnight ago will look very much that way.

At the very least it turned that match and prevented the Dragons from heading into the finals on the back their seventh loss in their final nine matches.

With the Knights leading 10-8 and looking to extend, and Dragons seemingly shot for numbers on their left edge, Barnett took a pass from the inside and looked for a quick tip on only to be crunched by Pereira.

Nene Macdonald and Matt Dufty scored in the aftermath before Pereira sealed the deal with a late try of his own. A week – and a 30-point drubbing of Brisbane – later, it's looking more and more like a sliding doors moment.

“That moment I looked up, it was fifth and final [tackle] and Mitchell Pearce had the ball,” Pereira recalls.

“When it's the last tackle and I've got Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who's a massive kick target in front of me, it's always going to be anyone's game plan to go to him. I had to have that in the back of my mind.

“I was fairly deep in the in-goal to cover that and then I saw [Pearce] take it close to the line so if it was going to be a kick it was going to be a grubber so I angled towards that.

“I saw Tim [Lafai] got caught on a lead [runner] and that left me to take two men so I just had to jam and try and cut it off early.

“If it was a split-second earlier he probably would've got that pass away and Kenny-Dowall would've been over in the corner but it was just fortunate timing.”

He was mobbed by teammates in the aftermath, but the 25-year-old wasn't immediately aware he'd made such a big play, saying his thoughts were elsewhere.

“I knew it was last tackle and they were in the corner so it's my job, next play I've got to take that carry and get the boys on the front foot and try and speed the game up,” he said.

“My first thought was to get back onside because we'll be playing the ball and to run as hard as I could because I knew they'd be coming in hot to smash me back.”

Now though, a season-turner?

"I guess when things go your way and you see smiles and you see cohesion start to lift it's only natural that morale goes with it and I think we took it into the next game,” he said.

It's a keystone moment in what's been a remarkable season for a guy who learned the rules of the game playing park footy in Perth before linking with Mackay in the Queensland Cup.

Then came the call a day before last season's June 30 transfer deadline when the Dragons threw him the lifeline that saw him drive 26 hours from North Queensland to Wollongong to ink a minimum wage deal.

After spending the bulk of the season stuck behind regulars Nene Macdonald and Jason Nightingale, Pereira earned his shot in round 19 and hasn't missed a game since.

It's a hell of a ride, but not one he's over-thinking just yet.

“I'm obviously very proud of the journey that's come about but, at the end of the day, it's just football,” he said.

“I'm just trying to simplify it and not over-crowd my mind and focus. I think the positive I took out of it going through those early rounds [in reserve grade] was that I was training against the best team in the comp.

“I was only getting better and better as the year went on because they were such a tough side in the NRL and we were training against them. I feel that's what got me ready for the job at hand.

“At the time it's hard because you don't really think you'll get a go because they're going so well but you've just got to stay ready and wait for an opportunity to pop up. That's what happened and I'm still here now.”