St George Illawarra players are targeting a top-two finish and a home final in the first week of the play-offs after identifying areas where the team can improve during a three-day camp on the Central Coast.
The Dragons are the only side to have been in the top four each week since the opening round of the season but have slipped to fourth place after winning just one of their past five matches.
However, the players have taken confidence from their second-half performance in last Saturday’s 18-12 loss to the Warriors in which they scored two unanswered tries after the interval.
Until then, the game was headed the same way as their previous four matches against Melbourne, Wests Tigers, North Queensland and Sydney Roosters, in which St George Illawarra were required to do more defending than their opponents.
The Dragons had also gone away from the direct style which had proven so successful in the first half of the season as it allowed playmakers Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt more time to make decisions.
"We are just not playing as clinically as we were at the start of the season," hooker Cameron McInnes said. "Our completion rate in the second half [against the Warriors] was a lot better than the first and possession swung so the Warriors had to make more tackles than us.
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"That’s the game but unfortunately the last couple of months we have been making more tackles than every other team we have played against. That comes down to completion rates and poor finishes to our sets and things like that.
"It’s just up to us, especially the ones who touch the ball a lot, to make sure we are coming up with the right options and playing a bit more through teams rather than trying to go around them, which hasn’t been working."
The Terrigal getaway had been planned since the beginning of the season and was not a response to the team’s recent dip in form but centre Euan Aitken said it had given the players a chance to regroup ahead of their final four matches.
While many believe the Dragons will be aiming to retain their spot in the top four in the upcoming games against Parramatta, Wests Tigers, Canterbury and Newcastle, Aitken said the players had targeted a top two finish.
"I don’t believe in trying to get lucky or anything like that," Aitken said. "We need to make our own luck and make sure we are putting ourselves in the best position to cement a top four spot or even top two, maybe.
Aitken admitted his own form in the past two matches against the Roosters and Warriors had been "disappointing", but McInnes said there wasn’t much different from the way most of the players were playing now compared to the start of the season.
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"It’s just the results that are different and once the result starts to become different everyone starts to say what’s wrong with this guy or that guy," McInnes said.
"Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for us, it is other teams scoring points and that comes down to how we finish our sets with our kicking game or making errors coming out of the yardage end. Attack wise we don’t have a problem."
Asked why he was confident the Dragons could recapture their top form before the finals, McInnes said: “Because of the way we played at the start and the way we have played in patches of games, and the players we have got. You can’t have as much talent as we do and work ethic and not find it again. We are confident it is going to come.”