As far as losses go, St George Illawarra’s 40-4 drubbing at the hands of Parramatta was as close to disastrous as you can get.
The Dragons not only slipped out of the NRL’s top four for the first time this season, with a top four finish now looking precarious with just three weeks remaining before the finals. But St George Illawarra face an anxious wait to determine the seriousness of a shoulder injury to captain Gareth Widdop.
Widdop was forced from the field during the first half at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night after landing awkwardly with his arm outstretched. The five-eighth suffered a dislocated shoulder, though it was able to be popped back into place.
The Dragons, top of the table six weeks ago, are in free fall after their fifth loss in their last six games. The side that physically dominated teams for the first half of the season has disappeared.
It looked as though Parramatta were the side chasing a minor premiership and top four finish. The Dragons played like they were on track for the wooden spoon.
“No it doesn’t [get much worse] to be honest. That scoreline is very ugly,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
“The start of the game. A seven-zero penalty count. Compounded by errors. Compounded by some soft tries. I thought our line speed was good. I thought we were running nice and hard with the footy. However, to win games you need possession and you need to build pressure. We didn’t do either of them.
“Definitely [not good enough]. What I say in the shed should stay in the shed. We’ve got a few players down on confidence. That can happen. So we’ve got to make sure we manage that well. We re-group come Monday and get to work because that’s not acceptable.”
All is not lost for the Dragons if they can recapture their early season form where they were the dominant force in the competition.
They also have a friendly run home. Their final three games are against teams all outside the top eight. That run starts with a trip to Leichhardt Oval to face the Wests Tigers on Saturday night.
The Dragons were beaten by the Tigers at Kogarah less than five weeks ago and are now in fifth place, two points outside the top four, needing to win their final three games to have any chance of a top four finish.
“You can’t close down the environment around them. What you can do is limit it, limit what [the players] read and hear,” McGregor said.
“Certainly [you’ve] got to take a little bit out of what you’ve done this year knowing what you can achieve. That’s the big thing.
“I said to the boys when you take the field you’ve got 80 minutes to protect that character, that’s your 80 minutes that no one can take away from you.
“So we’ll go to work this week and work really hard around next time we go out there we can protect that character, all of us, come game day. There’s no happy person in that shed right now and they’re a very caring and committed group and we’ve got to be better than what we showed [against Parramatta].”