Sims' vow to Dragons fans, for better or worse
A Gerringong junior who returned to his native home 12 months ago, Tariq Sims knows what the fluctuating fortunes of their footy team mean to the people of the NSW South Coast.
The allegiance of the Illawarra with the powerhouse St George club almost 20 years ago created one of the largest supporter bases in rugby league and they ride every high and feel the depth of every low with those who represent them.
When the 2017 Dragons defied wooden spoon predictions to win six of their first seven games of the season, the Princes Highway that links Wollongong with Sydney's south looked for all the world like a path to the finals series. But with two rounds remaining those September celebrations have been temporarily put on hold.
Friday night's 24-12 loss to the Broncos in Brisbane has put the Dragons in sudden-death territory two weeks early with next Sunday's clash with the Panthers shaping as a defining one in determining the final make-up of the top eight.
Given their team has only qualified for the finals once in the past five years – they finished eighth two years ago – it's 80 minutes St George Illawarra diehards may struggle to sit through… and Sims wouldn't have it any other way.
"We're a massive club, have a huge fan base and the fans are unreal, I love them," said Sims.
"Whether it be negative comments or positive comments, they're always there. Even if the comments are negative, it's out of frustration because they are so passionate about the club.
"We're just as passionate. We're the ones out there putting our bodies on the line and trying our best. It's not like we go out there to let tries in.
"It's part and parcel of the game these days with social media. You guys pump out all that information and the fans take it how they want to take it but it's on us to turn it around and make sure we put in an 80-minute performance."
Currently sitting in ninth position but with a superior points differential to the six teams immediately ahead of them, wins over the Panthers and Bulldogs in their final two games should almost certainly be enough for St George Illawarra to squeeze into the top eight.
Wins however have been hard to come by in recent times with just three victories in their past nine matches but Sims says that their remains a confidence within the group that they can do what is required to give their fans a late-season thrill.
"We've got two weeks to go. We need to win both of those games and win them well," said Sims.
"We've got a pretty good for-and-against so we can launch up the ladder a little bit. Unfortunately there are other results so we have to sit on our hands and wait a bit and see if they go our way.
"Confidence isn't a problem. It's just through our games we have five or 10-minute periods where we clock off and in the NRL you can't do that.
"Even the lower-tier teams can get you. It's up to us to make sure we do the best we can for 80 minutes.
"We've lost two or three golden points, games by two points but that doesn't show on the ladder.
"If we can really [win] these last two games, we can shoot up the ladder and gain some momentum going into the finals."