Paul McGregor believes St George Illawarra’s thrilling finals exit was a missed opportunity but that his Dragons side has taken ‘bounds’ forward this season, with the club to conduct a review of their campaign.
St George Illawarra’s season ended on Saturday night, with Souths halfback Adam Reynolds slotting a hat-trick of field goals to secure the Rabbitohs a last-gasp 13-12 victory in their elimination semi-final.
Almost 50,000 fans were on hand at ANZ Stadium as the Dragons put everything they had on the line in a pulsating contest before eventually falling short.
Dragons coach McGregor was buoyant despite the defeat, proud of his players and optimistic ahead of next season.
Despite their late fade out after leading the competition with nine rounds to play in the regular season to finish seventh, a week two finals exit is still the Dragons’ best season since 2011.
“Everyone wants to talk about everything negative, don’t they? But I think if you go back and look at the year, and I mentioned it [to the players], every team is going to have a period where they’re not playing well,” McGregor said.
Today was an opportunity missed, for sure. But [our season was] definitely bounds forward, not steps.Paul McGregor
“And every team in the competition has done that, the top eight teams have done less of it. That’s why they finished so far clear of ninth position.
“Ours was obviously at the back end of the year after a pretty heavy load through that middle third with the Origin players that we haven’t had in there before.
“And with the type of footy we played for the first 10 or 12 weeks there’s got to be a drop somewhere because to sustain that week in, week out hasn’t happened in the competition. The competition this year was as close as it’s ever been.”
As well as a taxing State of Origin series, injuries also played their part in St George Illawarra’s demise.
They lost captain Gareth Widdop twice to a dislocated shoulder at a crucial late stage of the season, while Paul Vaughan suffered a season-ending broken foot in a freak training accident.
McGregor said a number of Dragons players were forced to play ‘busted’ late on in the campaign, with the club to undergo a review of their campaign in the coming weeks.
“The back end we got some injuries at a very wrong time. To be without Gaz and Vaughan [against Souths] was a little bit difficult,” he said.
“But yes, obviously there’ll be a review at the end of the year. Every team will go through a review and make sure you get things right for the following year and put things into place. We certainly have a process in place around Origin time, we’ll review that. Resting players at different stages.
“The two games that were the most disappointing of the 27 games we played was obviously the Parramatta game and the Canterbury game. And if you take those two games off we were very consistent.
“We lost some tight ones. But the Canterbury game was a good kick in the teeth, to be honest. We re-grouped after that.
“We just made sure whatever was going to be next was better than what was in the past. And we had to learn from it.”