St George Illawarra don’t have any more excuses.
Another loss this week and the Dragons will find themselves on a knife’s edge of dropping out of the NRL top eight.
Paul McGregor’s side led the competition just six weeks ago but have come crashing back to earth with four straight defeats.
Critics afforded them slack – the side’s injury toll and representative player drain played its part, with the Dragons missing nine first graders against North Queensland last week.
They will receive welcome relief this week with Joel Thompson (hamstring), Jason Nightingale (ankle) and Will Matthews (suspension) returning for Sunday’s local derby against Cronulla.
Josh Dugan suffered an arm injury in NSW’s State of Origin III loss on Wednesday night and will be monitored in the lead up, while fellow Blue Trent Merrin has been suspended for four weeks for a lifting tackle on Corey Parker.
McGregor points to the close nature of their last three losses – with each coming by six points or less.
However, he admits they need to start winning or risk jeopardising the good work done during their flying start to the season.
“You can look at the loss-win sheet and it’s very disappointing and there’s no hiding from that,” McGregor said.
“If you look at the scoreline, it’s a completely different picture.
“We’re getting beaten by a try each week. We’d like to turn that margin around and win by a try each week and we wouldn’t be talking about it.
“Reality is, the competition is very intense, competition is very tight and we put ourselves in a very good position with those eight out of nine wins.
“Now we’ve suffered those losses in a row and it brings you back.”
Should the Dragons go down to Cronulla at Remondis Stadium, the Sharks would draw level with them on 20 points.
The Dragons’ last win came against the Sharks, in a 42-6 drubbing at Jubilee Oval in round 13.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said his squad had spoken about the embarrassing defeat and were using it as motivation heading into Sunday’s clash.
“We’re coming off a loss to Manly and some good form before that,” Flanagan said.
“It wasn’t that long ago we were at Kogarah Oval and we were embarrassed by them in the second half, so the playing group’s talked about that already.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* St George Illawarra have dominated the match up in recent seasons, winning 10 of the last 13, including four of their last six at Remondis Stadium.
* The Dragons will be looking for four straight wins against the Sharks for just the third time.
* Paul McGregor’s side have lost four straight, scoring just 54 points in that period.
* Cronulla is being awarded the most penalties of any team receiving on average 8.3 per game.