The Dragons had their best game of the season in Round 14 against the Panthers, according to coach Paul McGregor. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
St George-Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has described Saturday night's 18-14 loss to Penrith
as his side's "best game" they've played all year.
A stubborn and free-flowing Dragons side pushed Penrith for the whole 80 minutes, winning everything from completion rate, field position, the penalty count and error count.
The only tally they lost was on the scoreboard. But with representative stars Josh Dugan, Trent Merrin and Brett Morris all sidelined, McGregor didn't see it that way.
"Half our salary cap is at home sitting on the lounge with rep duty and injuries," he said post-game.
"I thought some of the football we displayed was really good, attacking footy. I thought sometimes you lose, but you win. And I thought we had a win tonight."
Up by eight points with more than 20 minutes to go, Penrith searched for a game-sealer that would've put the visitors to the sword.
Instead, it was a 79th minute try by Dragons winger Jason Nightingale that reduced the margin to four and set up a tense finish.
It was certainly a different Dragons side to the one that had conceded at least 29 points per week in a four-game losing streak a month ago.
"To see the excitement in our guys with five to go trying to score a try was good," McGregor said.
"You only have to look back a couple of weeks to see where we're at and where we are now.
"When I started, all I said is I wanted improvement week to week. That's the best game we've played this year. We've just got to make sure we back it up next week
"They're becoming a football team they want to become. I see a team out there that's enjoying itself and is willing to look after themselves, a team that cares and a team that wants a bit of self-pride back."
The sticking point for McGregor will be the Dragons' 5-7 record, one that has them sitting four points behind the 8th-placed Tigers in 13th spot.
The Dragons caretaker admitted their season had already reached calculator-grabbing point.
"When I first took over we needed to win eight from 14. We won last week and lost this week. Each week we reassess it. We've broken the season up as a group and we know where we're at," he said.
Halfback Benji Marshall again struggled, coming up with a team-high three errors, but McGregor again preached patience.
"Probably the intensity of the game got to him tonight," he said. "It was much harder than what Benji's been involved [in] this year. I'm the lucky man to be coaching a player of his talent. If you see Benji Marshall at training and what he's like in there now, he's got a real will to do well."
The Dragons travel to the Gold Coast next week in an attempt to get their season back on track, hopefully with the return of Origin stars in Dugan and Merrin.
One player who is likely to miss out is boom forward Tyson Frizell, who suffered an ankle injury early in the first half and didn't return.