St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop has labelled his side’s season a failure after the Dragons blew their chance to play finals football with a 26-20 loss to Canterbury on Sunday.
The equation was simple for the Dragons at ANZ Stadium – win their final game of the regular season against a side whose campaign was over weeks ago and finish seventh or lose and undo so much of their hard work and improvement from last year.
The red V led 20-14 with 15 minutes to go only to concede two late tries to have their season ended. It was a bitter way to end the season for the Dragons who led the competition after seven rounds and looked primed for an assault on the top four.
“We play this game to play finals and effectively the year is a failure,” Widdop said.
“We started out to do that and we had a great opportunity [against Canterbury] to do that and in the end we weren’t good enough. We need to learn from this for sure.”
The Dragons are just the third team since the top-eight system was introduced to miss the finals after leading at the end of the seventh round. They also had the highest for-and-against (+83) of any team to miss the finals in the 2000s.
We play this game to play finals and effectively the year is a failure.Gareth Widdop
Coach Paul McGregor said his side were gutted but offered no excuses.
“There’s six games this year that come to mind that could have gone [either] way and we didn’t win any of them. The competition is that tight, when you don’t win the close ones continually you don’t play finals footy,” he said.
“If you look at the first third of the year we were dominant. Our position was first on the ladder, we were inspiring, we had the best attitude.
“Second third of the year we [had] representative honours, got a few injuries through that. Lost a couple of close games. Then our [last part] of the year was just inconsistent. So if you look at the whole year we’re disappointed not to play finals footy. We’re actually more than disappointed, we’re shattered.
“We all start pre-season in October to play finals footy. That’s why you like to be involved in the game, to play at the best time of the year which starts next week and unfortunately we’re not there.”
McGregor did not confirm speculation linking Bulldogs captain James Graham to the red V for next season.
“I’ll wait until it’s done. If it’s done he’s a current international. He’s inspirational the way he plays and he’s very passionate in what he does. But at the moment it’s only speculation.”