Departing St George-Illawarra forward Trent Merrin says the team earned back some respect from their rivals in their thrilling 11-10 golden point loss to Canterbury in Saturday night’s elimination NRL final.
The Dragons were down 6-0 when star halfback Benji Marshall suffered a game-ending ankle injury midway through the second half, with second-rower Joel Thompson (hamstring) and George Rose (bicep) following not long after, leaving coach Paul McGregor to just one able body on the bench.
However two clutch goals by Widdop, one from the sideline and then another after the fulltime siren, sent the game into overtime.
In the end though it was an 84th minute field goal to Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds that ended a promising season for the Dragons, who sat atop the competition ladder after round 12.
Penrith-bound Merrin said the club had changed immensely since McGregor took over midway through last season.
“From the start of the year, everyone was kicking us,” he said.
“We were outsiders, and we shielded ourselves away from everything and built some respect back. We were leading the comp after 12 weeks.”
Merrin, who played 128 games over his six seasons at Wollongong, also said it was a personal goal to help the Red V rise re-join the league’s elite.
Saturday’s final against the Bulldogs was the club’s first visit to September in the post-Wayne Bennett era.
“We’ve got teams turning around now and noticing us,” Merrin said
“Especially getting into the finals, we haven’t done that for the last four years.
“Me personally, it was one of my goals to get the club back to where it deserved to be.”
Having entered the match as rank outsiders, McGregor felt his team had scored a moral victory.
“And even though we lost, we showed the right desire, attitude, commitment, resolve and courage – everything you want from a football team – and we fell short at the final hurdle,” he said.
“But to me they’ve won. I’m talking to a different bunch of boys than I talked to 12 months ago.”