Paul McGregor still believes St George Illawarra can win the NRL premiership this season despite turning in what the Dragons coach described as their worst performance of the campaign against Canberra on Sunday night.
St George Illawarra will put their season on the line when they travel to Penrith to take on the in form Panthers on Friday night.
The Dragons are languishing in 14th place on the NRL table with eight rounds remaining. Their season is now on the brink, with the Dragons likely needing to win six or seven of those games just to play finals football.
They are only four points outside the top eight and a run of good results could catapult them back into finals contention. But the issue for them is how many teams sit between the Dragons and the play off places on the table, with St George Illawarra only above struggling Canterbury and the Gold Coast.
McGregor said he would not defend the performance in the 36-14 loss to the Raiders in what was St George Illawarra's last appearance in Wollongong for the season, with Canberra playing a quarter of the game with 12 players after Nick Cotric's sending off.
Nor would McGregor use having four players backing up from State of Origin duty as an excuse.
But despite the poor display McGregor said he still believed the Dragons could make the finals - and win the competition - with James Graham and Gareth Widdop expected back from long-term injuries in the next fortnight.
"Absolutely. I think we can win it. I know that sounds a bit unrealistic sitting here right now but that's how I approach every training session and every game that we're going to put our best performance in," he said.
"And if we do that we can win games of footy and we can win a few in a row to play some finals. And if we're healthy look out. But we've got a long way to go after tonight because that's a disappointing performance."
McGregor said despite having a number of off-field distractions this season including injuries and Origin forward Jack de Belin's NRL standing down, his players needed to own their performances and improve drastically starting with their clash with Penrith.
"That's not acceptable and you can call it desire, attitude, effort but it comes down to pride in your own performance to make those tackles, to hold onto the footy in important times, to be disciplined and take a step if you need to take a step in your 10 metres, to hold the footy when there's one on one strips," McGregor said.
"All that sort of stuff you can control yourself, you get a choice.
"The difference in the score tonight indicates why [Canberra are] in the top four and we're in the bottom four."