St George Illawarra Dragons coach Paul McGregor keeps things in perspective after 24-10 loss to South Sydney

Ouch: Dragons halfback Ben Hunt battled on with a badly corked leg in his side's loss to South Sydney on Sunday. Picture: AAP Images
Ouch: Dragons halfback Ben Hunt battled on with a badly corked leg in his side's loss to South Sydney on Sunday. Picture: AAP Images

When you’re top of the NRL table you can afford to keep your sense of humour in defeat.

“They’re the benchmark,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor quipped after his side were beaten 24-10 by South Sydney on Sunday.

A week after Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy had labelled his side the NRL’s best team, McGregor saw the Dragons turn in a poor performance against the resurgent Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.

The Dragons were flat and lacked their usual bite in defence. They were punished for a sleepy start and were behind 12-0 inside six minutes.

The red V battled back and enjoyed decent stretches of possession and field position but were unable to get back within striking distance.

“They’re a good side. We knew before the game we were playing some quality opposition. They’ve got some big powerful forwards and speed out wide and experience through their whole side,” McGregor said.

“They’ve won six of their last eight games now. For us we knew what was coming. We played them four weeks ago and certainly took something out of that game. We thought we could do better today but we just didn’t manage. Statistically we probably looked alright but as I said to the boys there’s no statistic for intent or effort. They out enthused us a touch.”

McGregor said the lack of intensity was a blip rather than a concern given his side’s outstanding start to the season.

The Dragons remain top of the NRL table after 10 rounds and make the trip to Mudgee to face Canberra on Sunday. They then travel to Penrith before they enjoy their only bye of the season the weekend before State of Origin I in Melbourne on June 6.

“If [a lack of intensity] consistently happens it will [concern me] but it hasn’t happened before so not right now, no,” McGregor said. 

“And we weren’t down that much we were just down a touch. And they scored a couple of quick tries on us and I thought we wrestled it back at different stages too. It wasn’t the full 80 minutes, I thought we won the fightback but we didn’t score that try that we needed.”

Dragons captain Gareth Widdop said the loss was a lesson his side needed to learn. 

“It’s obviously a big challenge to be up each and every week,” he said. 

“We got out enthused and [lacked] energy. They were more physical than us from the get go. It’s a big learning curve for us each and every week.

“We need to be switched on week to week and playing with energy and intent. So we’ll obviously review that but we’ll certainly move on.”

Ben Hunt is expected to play against Canberra despite suffering a bad cork to his leg, while Jack de Belin could be a doubt after failing to train last week.