New St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor was happy with the efforts of his charges after a 29-10 loss to the Rabbitohs in his first game as head coach, insisting improvement is on the way.
He said at times during the loss the Dragons were "very very good," but lamented the 7-2 penalty count which repeatedly let Souths off the hook and piggy-backed them into Dragons territory.
"I think tonight at different times we showed a fair bit of character. We played against a very clinical team – they're a top four side," McGregor said after the game.
"We've got some work to do; it showed but if we put the right systems in place over the next month we'll improve each week."
He said the side needs to learn how to build pressure, an area in which South Sydney are more proficient at this stage.
"Playing against a side like that in the conditions, you just have to build pressure. I think early we did, we got them down our right corner – their left – and the field position was even. Then we sprayed a kick out, turned the ball over and they had field position. When you give Souths field position they know how to score points," he said.
"We've got to put things into perspective, and work really hard. We start that tonight, we'll have a good chat afterwards, the boys have got tomorrow off, there's a coach's review and we'll have an honesty session on Wednesday and aim up on Saturday [against Cronulla at Wollongong]."
He said with the game falling on a Monday at the end of the round he'd had a full week with the side so there were no excuses. "We've just got to improve, and it starts tomorrow in review, and we look to Cronulla on Saturday. We don't turn away, we look forward," he said.
Like his predecessor he pleaded for patience with new playmaker Benji Marshall, who had another mixed game (a kick out on the full, plus a couple of errors and wayward passes were partially countered by a bomb for a try assist and a long run featuring a 2005-vintage flick-pass).
Captain Ben Creagh agreed it was an improved effort compared to the 36-0 drubbing at Parramatta in Round 10, and 38-6 loss to the Bulldogs at ANZ in Round 9.
"I thought there were some good signs in the first half, I thought we started the game pretty well," Creagh said, with the side having absorbed plenty of pressure in a scoreless opening 26 minutes.
"Our discipline let us down with a few penalties which let the pressure valve off a bit and they scored a few tries after that, but I thought the first 30 minutes was pretty good. I thought our defence in the middle was a lot better than what it has been. There's improvement to be made but blokes are in there making an effort, doing their best against a bigger side."
McGregor suggested the experiment of playing former NSW fullback Josh Dugan at right centre was likely to continue, backing the form of early-season fullback Adam Quinlan.
"At our start to the year when Adam was at fullback we scored 110 points within the first four rounds. We've been lacking a right centre since Dylan Farrell got injured. We've tried a few people and it hasn't worked," he said.
He said he thought Dugan went very well there and against a lesser defensive side could cause some trouble.