Dragons coach Paul McGregor and captain Tyson Frizell admitted they had been disappointed by the hostile reaction of their fans during and after Sunday’s 38-0 loss at Kogarah but were more concerned the team had let Jason Nightingale down.
The match was Nightingale’s farewell from Jubilee Oval after announcing his retirement earlier this month but the celebration turned ugly as Canterbury all but ended St George Illawarra’s top-four hopes and fans turned on the players.
The Dragons were booed as they came from the field at halftime and some fans went even further after a post-match presentation for Nightingale by lining up around the tunnel area to let the players know what they felt of the performance.
Star halfback Ben Hunt was a particular target after another below-par performance by the Queensland Origin playmaker, while another player had a Dragons scarf throw at him.
McGregor said he had experienced it during his playing days with the club and said the fans felt entitled to vent their feelings after such a disappointing performance.
“It’s shattering isn’t it,” McGregor said. “They pay to come and watch the game. It is very disappointing.”
Frizell said he and his team-mates were disappointed they had not been able to give Nightingale the send-off he deserved.
“It is very disappointing and it is hard to cop that from your fans but rightly so,” Frizell said.
“We can cop losing a game and doing our best but for what we had to play for and to play like that, to not give ourselves any opportunity to have a look in in the game at all, and then to send off 'Gypsy' like that was pretty disappointing as a player.
“We had a goal to finish in the top four, which I don’t know if that is out the window, but to have a player like Jason in your team, who has done so much, and to not pay him the respect with the way we played today and not putting in a good performance was very disappointing.”
Besides winning for Nightingale, whose career may now be over after dislocating his elbow in the 43rd minute, the Dragons were playing to retain the top-four position they had held for all but one week of the Telstra Premiership so far.
McGregor said they also wanted to honour the memory of former Dragons forward Lance Thompson, who passed away last week aged just 40.
“It obviously didn’t go to script,” McGregor said. “We had a lot to play for on the back of Lance passing through the week, a top four position, Jason’s farewell to Kogarah, our last home game and we just didn’t go out and get the job done.”
However, Frizell said the players believed they could still make an impact in the finals series.
“We’ve got a similar squad to how we started the year, that was no fluke,” he said. “We are going through a tough period at the moment but there is no reason we can’t get back to that form.
“We are missing a couple of key players at the moment but that happens in footy. We’ve got to move on quickly and there is no point feeling sorry for ourselves. There is hopefully a lot of footy to come and we have got to fix it quick.”