With seven rounds remaining, the Dragons are clinging on to the seventh spot on the ladder but must address their heavy tally of missed tackles, which sewed the seeds of defeat to Manly, according to coach Anthony Griffin as they now limp into the lead-up to the finals.
The Red V led 14-12 at halftime but found it difficult to stop the waves of the Sea Eagles attack, amassing a missed tackle count of 45 in the 32-18 loss.
Griffin refused to lay the blame for the loss at the feet of those players missing through suspension.
"They'd be disappointed like all of us. We put ourselves in a position to win, but our first 10 minutes in the second half were disastrous for us defensively."
The Dragons' first season under the eye of Anthony Griffin has been an inconsistent one, but they have exceeded expectations, still sitting in the eight.
Untimely injuries and current avoidable suspensions have not made things easy, but their disappointing losses to the Bulldogs, Tigers, Warriors and Sharks could hurt them in the end.
The Dragons face a tough run home that features clashes with the Panthers, Roosters and Rabbitohs twice.
They must stand up and beat the Titans this week even though they still have a few weeks of suspension interruptions left, as players pay the penalty for their much-reported Covid breach.
Griffin said the thing that happened at Shellharbour is over and has been dealt with, the players have paid the price, and as a club, they've come together.
Griffin did reserve some praise for Ben Hunt, who scored two tries to seal Queensland's Game III victory in Origin and backed up 48 hours later to try to get two wins at the same ground in the same week.
Hunt had spurred the Maroons on when he burrowed over from dummy half to regain the lead at 14-12, and then he scored again in the 64th to make it 20-12 and seal the Maroons win.
Sadly his efforts were not similarly rewarded against Manly.
"He's had a big two or three days, so we'll give him a long rest now," Griffin said.
An unwanted bonus of the current and upcoming suspensions is that Dragons' members and fans now get to have another look at the club's rookie prospects.
Tyrell Sloan got his second start in the NRL and scored in the sixth minute against Manly after a memorable debut against the Canberra Raiders in Round 15.
Gerringong local junior Jackson Ford started at lock for the eighth time in his career while Jayden Hunt, Junior Amone and Jaiyden Sullivan were named on extended bench lists. Former Warriors forward Jamayne Taunoa-Brown bolstered the forward pack and veteran outside back Gerard Beale played his 200th NRL game.