St George Illawarra are adamant they are not a spent force and can regroup to make a dent on the NRL finals.
The Dragons’ slump worsened on Saturday night when they were downed 18-12 by an undermanned North Queensland 18-12 in Wollongong.
It was Paul McGregor’s side’s fourth loss in a row and they have managed just two wins from their past seven matches.
After bursting out of the blocks to surprisingly lead the competition after 12 rounds, they will end the week on a logjam of sides on 20 points on the cusp of the eight.
Few tipped the Dragons to be finals contender at the start of the year and they were expected to wane in the back half of the season.
However, McGregor says he is not worried by the string of losses, with their last three defeats coming by a converted try or less.
“There’s no panic stations but you’d like to start to win games, that’s for sure. It’s really important,” McGregor said.
“The guys worked hard to put themselves in a good position on the ladder and when you lose consecutive games, you drop down pretty quickly.
“We’re not happy with that. The situation for us is the last three games we were in it right to the end but we couldn’t manage a win and tonight was no different.”
McGregor lamented the side’s disruptions, in particular having Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin on State of Origin duty, but the Cowboys were in the same boat without Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, James Tamou and Matt Scott.
They also went into their game with a heavy injury toll.
They were missing their starting back row, with Joel Thompson (hamstring) and Tyson Frizell (back) also out.
Will Matthews (suspension), Jack de Belin (virus) and Rory O’Brien (ankle) also sat out, prompting McGregor to shuffle his forward pack.
Regular bench player Jake Marketo was forced to play 80 minutes, while Mark Ioane and Luke Page made their club debuts just three days after arriving in Wollongong following mid-season switches from the Gold Coast and Canberra respectively.
They also took the field without experienced outside backs Jason Nightingale (ankle) and Dylan Farrell (back), while debutant winger Kiti Glyman was struck down with a hamstring injury in the second half and looks set for an extended stint on the sidelines.
McGregor said there were extenuating circumstances for the loss and, while his team didn’t lack effort, the result still hurt.
“It was certainly a tough week for all but we certainly played with the right commitment to one another,” he said.
“You look at their tries one was just a barge over from dummy half that could have been prevented, the other one was a kick and Justin (Hunt) was just a yard short.
“They were two tries that you can prevent and we didn’t. It wasn’t to be.”