THEY were already off, but getting the wheels back on their finals cart looks well and truly beyond St George Illawarra after they slumped to a 40-18 defeat to Penrith on Friday night.
After a dismal showing against Canberra last week, the Dragons showed signs of life in the first half, but a try to Panthers flyer Brian To'o three minutes before halftime proved a killer blow.
With Ben Hunt rested, the Dragons lost stand-in No. 7 Darren Nicholls to an HIA 13 minutes in and briefly turned Luciano Leilua into the NRL's biggest halfback.
It wasn't be design but it worked a treat for the visitors, with Leilua producing two crucial handles in tries to Mikaele Ravalawa and Josh Kerr.
It overturned a 10-0 deficit and saw the visitors lead 12-10 only for To'o to breeze through some flimsy defence at the other end and re-take a four-point lead at the break.
From there the Dragons threw up the white flag, with Jonus Pearson spilling the ball cold on his line in their first set of the second stanza, allowing Moses Leota to cross a set later.
It was the first of four second half tries, with Nathan Cleary, Brent Naden, Reagan and Campbell-Gillard all getting across in the face of a meek surrender from the visitors.
Paul Vaughan posted the Dragons only try of the second stanza after Villiame Kikau was dispatched to the sin-bin in the 63rd minute for a late hit on Nicholls.
It will attract the attention of the match review panel amid a crackdown on late shots on play-makers, but it's about the only headache Panther coach Ivan Cleary was nursing at fulltime.
Paul McGregor has plenty with his side languishing in 14th spot on the ladder, while their finals chances appear mathematical and little else with seven games remaining.
Hunt will be back for next week's clash with the Rabbitohs, a match that will most likely see Gareth Widdop return from a dislocated shoulder.
On Friday's effort, it will take a lot more than that to perform CPR on their season, with calls for McGregor's head sure to grow louder.
The hosts started fast, enjoying 70 per cent of the ball and not making their first error until the 23rd minute. It showed in tries to To'o - who produced a spectacular effort to plant a well-placed kick from Maloney - and Naden inside 19 minutes.
Leilua briefly sparked the Dragons, handling beautifully in the lead-up to Ravalawa's 24th minute try, with Norman nailing the sideline conversion to cut the margin back to four 16 minutes before the break.
The Dragons took an unlikely lead 10 minutes later when Cam McInnes split the Panthers open through the middle. He found Leilua with Dufty looming in support before he was grassed by an ankle-tap from Kikau.
Kerr, who'd just been injected into the action, crossed on the next ruck, with Norman converting for a 12-10 lead.
It proved momentary, with To'o catching the Dragons big men napping through the middle to score next to the posts against the run of play two sets later.
It wasn't cut and dried, with Ravalawa very nearly holding him up, but the bunker could not find sufficient evidence to overturn the on-field call of try.
Leota got the ball rolling three minutes into the second half and it was all the Panthers from there, with Kikau's sin-binning the only real blemish on their second 40 minutes.