Jason Nightingale believes St George Illawarra’s battle to close the gap between their best and worst performances is purely a mental one.
The Dragons host traditional rivals South Sydney at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday night needing to bounce back from a deflating 21-14 loss to last-placed Newcastle.
St George Illawarra had been riding high from their drubbing of the previously high-flying Sea Eagles in Wollongong the week before and looked to have their top eight charge back on track.
But a flat and mostly disjointed performance against the Knights has the Dragons again battling just to make the finals after an excellent start to the season.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said after the win over Manly the challenge for his players was to become more consistent and learn to narrow the gap between their best and worst efforts. Nightingale told the Leader he believed the problem was mental.
“I think so. That’s what it felt like that Manly game. We were at our best and flying high, everything was coming off. That Manly game is probably the perfect example of things happening for us when we’re on a roll,” he said.
“I think our performance against Manly was more flawed than the scoreboard showed. I think probably the one positive of the short turnaround [from the Knights loss] is the chance to bounce back in six days rather than having to wait seven or eight.”
The veteran winger has fond memories of playing at the SCG, which played host to his 200th NRL game in a win over the Rabbitohs.
The Dragons could slip out of the top eight for the first time this season if they lose to Souths and in-form Penrith beat the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
Nightingale, a Renown United junior, said it was always special to play at one of the traditional homes of rugby league in Sydney.
“I’ve seen all the old footage of the many grand finals St George played there throughout the years and all the great tussles between the Dragons and especially Souths,” he said.
“It is a bit of a special feeling to reflect on that. It’s always a good occasion playing at a ground with a lot of history, not just in our sport.”