Nightingale hopeful in 150th game
Unfortunately, when your team is losing regularly and is much closer to last than first on the competition table, personal milestones like the one Jason Nightingale achieves on Monday night aren't as loudly celebrated as when you are winning.
That is just the nature of the game: If you're losing, you keep your head down, don't make too much noise and work hard to try to find the way out. But that doesn't make the achievement any less – particularly when it involves a player like the St George Illawarra winger.
Nightingale has always been one of the most professional players in the NRL. He isn't what you would call a prolific tryscorer, but he is constantly dangerous with the ball in his hands and is a strong defender. And he has played well whenever needed in the key position of fullback.
Against the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, Nightingale will play his 150th first-grade game. And, since he is only 26, he should have no problem reaching 200 games and could even top 250 if he can maintain his form and fitness.
Nightingale said he was proud to reach 150 games, but would readily swap the occasion for what would be a rare Dragons win this season. They are in second-last place on the competition table on 14 points, with just five wins and 11 losses.
"It feels like I haven't been around that long, but clearly I have," Nightingale said. "It's very exciting to play 150 games for the club and it's a special occasion for me on the weekend. It doesn't feel that long ago that I played my first game.
"The little milestones you reach along the way are always very nice, but you have it to treat as just another game. You've got to concentrate on the normal stuff. To play 150 games is a big thing, but winning is better."
Nightingale, a one-club man, made his debut for St George Illawarra against Penrith at WIN Jubilee Oval in Round 8 of the 2007 season. He has scored 63 tries in his 149 games, including seven this season.
But, in a statistic that is indicative of how much of a struggle it has become for the Dragons in attack, Nightingale scored those seven tries in his first seven games and has not registered another in nine games since. Furthermore, he racked up four line-breaks in his first five games of the season, but has added only one since.
Nightingale is still ploughing out plenty of metres. He has run for more than 100 metres 11 times this season, and also has three games in the 90s. Plus, he has typically used his size and strength well to get 21 offloads away. But he just isn't getting a lot of tryscoring opportunities.
The Dragons are on a three-game losing streak. They lost their first three games of the season, won their next three, and have lost eight of 10 since. They are the lowest-scoring team in the competition, with 218 points at an average of just 13.6 per game. Less of a threat than even Parramatta.
"Yeah, it's tough times at the moment," Nightingale said. "It isn't the best situation. We're going to have to fight our way out of it."
Fighting your way out of it against any opposition represents enough of a challenge when you are experiencing the Dragons' struggles, but against Souths it becomes a mammoth task. The Rabbitohs are leading the competition on 32 points, with 14 wins and just two losses.
Souths also have the best attacking record in the competition, having scored 424 points at an average of 26.5 points per game.
Asked if the thought of playing against the Rabbitohs had at least sharpened the Dragons' focus, Nightingale replied: "Definitely. Obviously, it's a daunting task to come up against a team that is going as well as they are. I've watched a lot of them this year and they're outstanding.
"We played them in the Charity Shield in the pre-season and they were good that night, and they've kept going since then. They're good to test us. It's a big challenge, and we need to get past it if we're going to give ourselves a chance going forward."
The Dragons would need to win at least seven, and possibly all eight, of their remaining games to make the finals. It looks a forlorn hope, but a massive upset win over the Rabbitohs would at least give them a big shot of confidence.
The worry is that Souths, even without injured superstar Greg Inglis, are capable of cutting loose and making it a horror night for the Red V.