The Dragons have been the surprise packet of the opening five rounds, recovering from a Charity Shield belting and a first-up loss to the Sharks to put together four wins on the bounce.
New coach Anthony Griffin is getting the best out of players who struggled for form and confidence during the past two years.
Their upset win over the high-flying Eels on Sunday catapulted the Red V into the top four for the first time since late in 2018.
With games against the Warriors, Wests Tigers and Bulldogs coming up in the next month, Dragons fans will be daring to dream of a return to the finals, but Griffin will be doing his best to keep a lid on the hype.
Get Caught Up: Round 5 must-see moments
Can the Dragons make the top eight?
For – Martin Lenehan (NRL.com senior journalist)
Wins over the Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Knights were cause for cautious optimism in the ranks of the Red V army but the true test was always going to be the trip into the Eels' den at Bankwest Stadium.
Parramatta had won their opening four games and piled on 104 points in the process, with Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown revelling in the space provided for him by Junior Paulo, Nathan Brown and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
If the Dragons were to make it four in a row they would need to muscle up in the forwards, contain the Eels out wide and silence a parochial crowd ... and they managed to do all three in spades.
Every try from Round 5
Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims, Josh Kerr and Daniel Alvaro were enormous in the heavy exchanges and centre Zac Lomax staked an undeniable claim for a NSW Blues debut come June.
Halfback Adam Clune was cool and composed in the absence of skipper Ben Hunt, and Andrew McCullough continued to repay the faith Anthony Griffin has shown in him with another lion hearted performance.
The most pleasing aspect of the win for Griffin will be the fact the Eels could muster only 12 points as the Dragons hit hard and often in defence, led by McCullough's 50 tackles and a string of bone-rattlers by Lomax and Mikaele Ravalawa on the right edge.
If defence is the foundation stone on which successful seasons are built then the Dragons are in great shape for a return to finals action for the first time since 2018.
After conceding a tick under 23 points per game last season, the Dragons are giving up 17 point a match so far in 2021 and look to be taking real pride in defending their line.
With Jack Bird getting back to the form that won him a premiership and Origin honours in 2016, Matt Dufty lighting it up at fullback, Vaughan churning out 151 metres per game and McCullough using his 273 games of experience to control the tempo, the Dragons have the pieces in place to mount a serious challenge.
Dufty feeds a charging Bird
Against – Paul Zalunardo (NRL.com senior journalist)
Right now, things are looking great for the Dragons.
A 4-1 record is better than anyone not holding either an official or parochial association with the club would have expected after round five. In their heart of hearts, a lot of people who fit into those classifications probably also weren’t expecting this.
The question now is can they maintain this top eight spot for another 20 weeks.
That’s a long time, especially for a playing roster that isn’t too different to the one that finished with 12th last year.
Of course, the arrival of Griffin has seen many things changed up, but is this just a sugar hit or something more meaningful?
Episode 7 - Brad Fittler
So far, the Dragons have beaten two of the teams anyone planning on making the eight simply has to beat (Manly and North Queensland) before catching Newcastle on a day when they were cruelled by injury.
Credit to the boys for the win over the Eels, but things start getting tougher from here.
In the next six weeks they play the Warriors, Roosters, Sharks and Storm before another good run of matches they need to win if they are to play September football.
They’re gonna want to get plenty of wins on the board before a brutal run home.
In the last seven weeks they will face the Rabbitohs twice and also come up against the Titans, Raiders, Panthers and Roosters (for a second time this year).
So, if you need 13 wins to make the finals, the Dragons are going to want to be in double figures in the wins department entering the last seven rounds.
It is possible, but with Canberra not expected to remain just inside the eight for long, the Sharks set for a boost when Shaun Johnson returns and the Warriors surely due to a winning run, the Dragons may be set for some late-season disappointment.
Will the Dragons make the top eight in 2021?
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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.