Water Cooler: The last men standing

It has proved to be the bane of many a minor premier but St George Illawarra forward Ben Creagh is adamant that the week off will benefit the Dragons in 2010 as injuries continue to play their part in the premiership race.<br><br>A week after Creagh helped send a bruised and battered Manly outfit on an early holiday, Penrith became the latest victim of another long season last Saturday night when they lost three players to injury in the first half alone, before being sent packing 34-12 by the Sydney Roosters.<br><br>But while their opponents in this week’s grand final qualifier, Wests Tigers, have also had their injury woes of late, Creagh believes the Dragons have never felt better as they look to claim their maiden premiership.<br><br>“It’s been a long year but I actually feel quite fresh,” Creagh told NRL.com. “I think the week off came at a really good time for us this year.<br><br>“It’s always good to give the legs a rest and a few of our guys welcomed the extra break.<br><br>“I think we’ve had our fair share of injuries during the year and have only started to get some of those guys back the last eight weeks or so, so things seem to be working out well and we’re feeling good.”<br><br>The Dragons were the great disappointments of last year’s finals series, crashing out in straight sets after finishing the regular season at the top of the table, but Creagh said both the players and coaching staff had learnt their lessons from those failures.<br><br>Coach Wayne Bennett even warmed up for the finals by resting halves Jamie Soward and Ben Hornby for the Round 26 win over South Sydney, but the week off has proved invaluable after prop Michael Weyman was restricted to just 37 minutes against the Sea Eagles two weeks ago because of a chronic groin problem.<br><br>“Personally I felt a lot worse by finals time last year,” he said. “For a few of us it was our first year playing State of Origin and just learning how to cope with that and backing up with games.<br><br>“I didn’t have a week off at all last year because our bye weeks coincided with Origin, so by the end of the year I was pretty tired.<br><br>“But I think the club and the coaching staff have managed it a lot better this year – giving us days off from training when we’ve needed it and really tapering everything back.<br><br>“It’s been short, sharp and intense when you’re there but we haven’t been on the field too long – we’ve been saving that for the weekend.<br><br>“But as I said, any time you get a break these days you take it so I think we’ll head into this week’s game feeling pretty good.”<br><br>The Dragons are the fittest of the four remaining sides heading into this week’s semi-finals with Dan Hunt the only remaining casualty from an early season injury crisis.<br><br>Nathan Fien returned to the field six weeks ago from a broken leg suffered in Round 1, while Neville Costigan, Jeremy Smith and Ben Hornby have all overcome injury concerns.<br><br>Star centre Mark Gasnier is also starting to find some form after returning to the NRL mid-season.<br><br>The Roosters are also looking fit but will be sweating on the availability of winger Phil Graham who tore a pectoral muscle in Saturday’s win over Penrith.<br><br>The Gold Coast are hoping fullback Preston Campbell returns from a hamstring injury in time to take on the Roosters this Friday and some doubts still remain over a number of key players including Scott Prince, Luke Bailey, Mat Rogers, Brad Meyers, Ashley Harrison and Steve Michaels.<br><br>And although the Tigers welcomed back Chris Lawrence against Canberra last week, they still have injury concerns surrounding half a dozen players – including Benji Marshall and Gareth Ellis.<br><br>When the four remaining coaches in this year’s title race prepare for battle this weekend, it’s not only victory that they’ll be hoping for – it’s also that the likes of Jamie Soward, Benji Marshall, Todd Carney and Scott Prince make it through unscathed.<br><br>As Penrith coach Matthew Elliott said after watching his side limp into an early Christmas on Saturday night: “Our continuity was slightly compromised coming into the game through changes… and was then probably completely thrown out of whack.<br><br>“We had a side where if we had everyone available we would have been a handful but when you lose your two key strike players early in the game and then a back-rower, it makes it difficult.”