Paul McGregor believes all the pressure of expectation will be on South Sydney in St George Illawarra’s elimination semi-final on Saturday night.
The Dragons kept their season alive with a 48-18 thrashing of the Broncos in Brisbane on Sunday to set up their clash with the Rabbitohs.
A large crowd is expected at ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park with two of the larger fan bases in the NRL keen to see their sides advance to a preliminary final against the Sydney Roosters.
Many experts had written off the Dragons after their late-season fade out. If they are to reach week three of the finals they will need to do it the hard way, with captain Gareth Widdop ruled out for the season with a recurrence of his dislocated shoulder suffered in the second half against Brisbane.
But if St George Illawarra’s win against the Broncos counts for anything, it showed the team that dominated the competition for the first half of the season is still alive. And after a third-placed finish, the highly-fancied Rabbitohs will be desperate to avoid straight sets losses to confirm their elimination.
“They’re all big at this time of year. Again expectations will be on the opposition so we’ll enjoy that,” McGregor said.
“This time of year every game is at it’s most important isn’t it because it’s knockout stage. It doesn’t matter if we're playing Souths or anyone else it’s a big one.
“Jack [de Belin] looks like he’ll be ok. He’s in a better position than he was this time last week. Gareth definitely not. His shoulder went [back] in after the siren. So when I went downstairs after the bell had gone he’d been off the field for a very long time and his shoulder was still out. So he’s no chance next week.
“It was a pretty brave effort from Jack to start with considering he was in a boot all week. He had a light run on Friday. Then Gareth after dislocating his shoulder three weeks ago to get back on the field and play like he did. He’s in a lot of pain there but he’ll do everything he possibly can to help the team win next week even though he won’t be on the footy field.”
McGregor indicated James Graham would be ok to back up despite failing a head-injury assessment in the first half after a sickening collision with Korbin Sims.
St George Illawarra have never met South Sydney in a finals match. The last time St George took on the Rabbitohs in the finals was at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1984.
The Dragons won 24-6 that day, with Steve Morris scoring twice.
Representative back-rower Tyson Frizell said the Dragons would take plenty from the win over Brisbane but also that it would count for little if they didn’t back up that performance against Souths.
“That’s the style of footy we built our year on from the start,” he said.
“If we can play like that we give ourselves every opportunity against any team.
“It’s only week one [of the finals] and we’ve got next week to perform well again. So this means nothing if we don’t show that next week.”