Injuries hit hard for beaten Dragons
They might have slumped to their fourth loss from five matches but there was a lot to like about the Dragons' performance in the nation's capital as they went down 18-14 to the Raiders in a golden point thriller that was headlined by a shoulder charge by Canberra's Josh Papalii on Josh Dugan.
The star fullback was taken from the field after he was collected high in the 57th minute, and while the Dragons were forced into a backline reshuffle, Papalii was able to stay on and play a key role as the Raiders rallied late to win in extra-time.
"It was obviously pretty bad," Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop said after the game when asked about the tackle.
"When you lose a key player in your team, it hurts, but that's football and injuries happen. It's disappointing when you get shoulder charged and you lose a good player, but I don't know what you can do about it."
Dugan's injury was just one of many setbacks for the Dragons who lost prop Russell Packer after just seven minutes to a hip injury, Kurt Mann was forced off for an HIA while Jason Nightingale copped a knock to the back of his leg after he crossed for a first-half try.
Packer's injury appears the most concerning with the big man unable to return despite being needled in the sheds.
"He's not real good," coach Paul McGregor said.
"[He copped a knock] in the first hit-up of the game right on the hip pointer and he couldn't run after that. He copped a couple of needles to get back out there but couldn't work through them. They didn't do anything so that's not a really good sign. It's a bit of a bludger of an injury."
Despite the setbacks, the Dragons produced their most resilient performance in weeks and will feel aggrieved they didn't leave Canberra with the two competition points.
The Red V had several chances to win it but blew some golden opportunities near the try line and also missed several gettable shots at field goal.
The loss means they'll finish the round two points clear of the ninth-placed Panthers, but with five of their next seven matches against sides below them on the ladder – including a Round 25 showdown with Penrith – the Dragons remain in a strong position to play in the post-season.
"I thought we took a real step forward," McGregor said.
"The boys played really well, they looked comfortable in everything they did, and even when we played people out of position, they found something. That's really encouraging when you sit back and watch that.
"I thought it was a really big step forward from how we've been playing. It's a credit to the guys how hard they’ve worked.
"We had a lot of injuries during the game, we lost our front-rower early, compounded by a lot of penalties and a few errors, but we just kept fighting. Our execution was quite good when we had the footy and our defence was quite strong but we just didn't get the result."