Dragons coach Paul McGregor says once the dust settles he will be able to find some positives in an improved 2017 season but to miss the finals after leading all comers seven weeks in and having a finals berth beckoning heading into Round 26 will take some getting over.
"Gutted. Absolutely shattered. It shouldn't have come down to today but it did," McGregor said immediately after his team's 26-20 loss to Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
"We let a team that couldn't score points score 26 on us. It's not good enough."
The Dogs' season-long struggles to score points evaporated in the final three weeks as they bagged three straight wins and put up their three best scores of the year in the process, out-enthusing an opponent with everything to play for when it counted.
"I thought we found energy at times during the game [but] we looked a bit flat," McGregor said, questioning whether the emotion of a hard-fought two-point win over the Panthers a week prior – in an effective elimination game for the Red V – may have sapped some energy.
"But there's no excuses. We're all feeling absolutely gutted in the sheds," he added.
McGregor reckoned there were about six games throughout 2017 his team were entitled to win but couldn't.
"The competition's that tight, when you don't win the close ones continually you don't play finals footy," he said.
"We're more than disappointed, we're actually shattered not to play finals footy."
To miss the finals this year hurt more than in previous years knowing the quality the team is capable of, he added.
"It does [hurt more] when your points for-and-against are third in the competition. It proves we can [defend] and we can attack. We're just not winning close games.
"That's where we've got to improve as a club but if you look at the development throughout the year, how much we've improved from this time last year there's only one way for the club, is forward.
"Right now I'm actually gutted but once I assess the year, there's a lot of good things to look at. We all start pre-season in October to play finals footy, that's why we've got fans that support it and that's why players play it. That's why we like to be involved in the game is to be involved at the best time of year, the exciting time of year which starts next week and unfortunately we're not there."
The loss was the final game in red and white for Sharks-bound centre Josh Dugan; the teary NSW three-quarter appeared the most emotional of any of his teammates immediately after the game and refused to speak to media on his way out of ANZ Stadium.
Dugan had a fairly strong game and almost had a powerful match-sealing try under the posts but for a stunning try-saver from Dogs fullback Will Hopoate.
"It would have been nice to get that try under the posts to go to a 12-point lead, that was a big momentum swing to the opposition," McGregor said.
"He (Dugan) has had some good years here and played some good footy for the club. There's some others in the same category as Josh. It's disappointing when you play a last game and don't get the result you want."
McGregor was also asked about reports Dogs skipper James Graham was headed to the Dragons in 2018 and while he insisted no deal had been done, did speak in glowing terms of the England veteran.
"There's talk about everything… I'll wait until it's done, if it's done," McGregor said.
"He's a current international, he's inspirational the way he plays, he's very passionate in what he does but at the moment it's only speculation."