AS Matt Cooper prepares to miss a finals series for the first time since 2007, the Dragons centre said his younger teammates need to step up to fill the impending void left by Dean Young and Ben Hornby.
Young and Hornby will play their last match as St George Illawarra prepare for their final game of this year against Parramatta — who will farewell Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt — at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
Their departure leaves a gaping hole in the Dragons’ experience.
‘‘Someone will have to step up,’’ Cooper said.
‘‘Whether that’s a young bloke that’s been around for a while or one of us leaders that are going to step up a bit.
‘‘With them leaving it’s going to leave a big hole in the club.’’
The Dragons join Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors as three of four most recent grand finalists to miss out on a finals spot.
Only defending premiers Manly have stayed in the top eight.
‘‘It’s pretty tough to swallow, especially after all the success we’ve had in the past couple of years,’’ Cooper said.
‘‘We’ve tried really hard but we’ve just got to execute better.
‘‘We can only get better next year.’’
Despite the poor results Cooper said players stood behind coach Steve Price.
‘‘He has done a really good job,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘All the boys are really happy with him.
‘‘He has been at the club for a few years under Wayne [Bennett] and has really stepped up as a great leader, not just in the footy side of things.
‘‘He is a good friend of mine.’’
After an injury-plagued season, Cooper will run out for his 15th game on Sunday night.
It will be the fewest amount of games he has played since 2001, his second year in the top grade.
‘‘It’s been tough sitting on the sidelines watching,’’ Cooper said.
‘‘You can’t do anything but help the bloke playing in my position and Nathan Green has done well.’’
Fellow 2010 grand final winner Beau Scott is an outside chance of returning from a groin injury which threatens to rob him of an on-field farewell before linking with Newcastle next year.
Bronx Goodwin will replace Daniel Vidot on the wing while Ben Creagh will be playing his 200th first grade game.