The trip to Townsville may have produced more than just the two competition points for St George Illawarra, with Paul McGregor believing the win over the Cowboys – and the week away as a team – could be vital to the Dragons’ season.
St George Illawarra face a blockbuster clash with the in-form Sydney Roosters on Sunday needing to win to maintain their push for the minor premiership.
But the Dragons will also be looking over their shoulder. Just two points separate first-placed Melbourne and Cronulla in fifth with six rounds to play.
A loss for St George Illawarra could see them slip outside the top four. Evidence of the logjam at the top of table can be seen in the swapping of ladder positions in recent weeks, with South Sydney falling from the summit to third after their loss to the Wests Tigers on Saturday.
The fourth-placed Roosters warmed up for the Dragons clash with a 56-24 hiding of an embarrassing Manly on Sunday. With the Roosters’ and Dragons’ State of Origin stars back on deck, the clash at Allianz Stadium could be an early finals preview.
The Dragons will return to Allianz for the first time since they got the better of the Tri-Colours in front of an Anzac Day-record crowd of more than 41,000 to confirm their premiership credentials, downing the Roosters 24-8 in round eight.
Dragons coach McGregor believes the four-day trip north of the border had helped his team get back to basics and reset ahead of the run in to the finals.
“For us it’s been really good to get away as a group. We haven’t been together for a long time. We did some revision and ownership around the game against the Tigers for the first time since round 11. That helps your footy team,” he said.
“We’re a team that preparation and practice is everything for us. We have got some new players in important positions. Young [Matt Dufty] is in his second year [of first grade]. We’ve got a new halfback [Ben Hunt] next to [Gareth Widdop]. James [Graham] is new so some important people in our side.
“So the more work you do together the better you become. And we’re a team that when we prepare well we play well.”
Despite criticism that the Dragons were on the slide during the Origin period, St George Illawarra remain fighting for the minor premiership, level on points with the Storm.
A spirited loss to Melbourne – with both teams shorn of their Origin stars – and a flat performance against the Wests Tigers had critics ready to put the red pen through the Dragons as they had done in previous seasons after a strong start.
But McGregor rejected talk of a slip as he eyes a strong end to the regular season.
“I don’t know if it was a bump. We lost a game against Melbourne where we were in the game for 65 minutes. Then sort of fell away at the back end of that game,” he said.
“But there were a few things that happened in that game that you’d like your time over. Our whole back-row were out then we lost a back-rower in the first four minutes and threw our interchange out. We had [Jason Nightingale] who normally plays as a winger on the edge.
“Then we lost a game last week which we would have liked to win against a Tigers side that then came out the following week and beat Souths.
“So the bump no, but our character gets tested every time we lose a game of footy. So we’ve got an opportunity each week to go out as a group of men and protect that character.”