Dragons under pressure as NRL season slips

·3-min read

St George Illawarra are staring at the prospect of the longest finals drought in the merged club's history as the Dragons risk falling completely out of the NRL's top-eight finals race.

Now sitting 11th on the ladder after Sunday's 34-8 loss to North Queensland, the Dragons face the likelihood of needing five weeks of must-win football, plus other results going their way, to make the playoffs.

While the Saints are just one win behind the eighth-placed Sydney Roosters and ninth-placed Canberra, it is a far inferior for-and-against record that is most likely to hurt them.

Their points differential of minus 124 is more than 100 behind the Sydney Roosters, the Raiders and 10th-placed Manly, leaving the Dragons likely needing to win at least four of their last five to havea chance of playing finals.

The Dragons have not reached the playoffs since 2018, and have since battled their way through a change of coach as well as several other football department shake-ups.

A fourth straight year out would mark the longest absence since their merger in 1999, while the Dragons side of the club has not missed four consecutive finals series since 1991.

Captain Ben Hunt hopes the must-win situation facing the club will galvanise the Dragons, who face Cronulla on Saturday night at Shark Park.

"If we want to make the finals it has to. We just have to win next week first, and then we worry about after that after that," Hunt said.

Dragons coach Anthony Griffin was also in little mood for discussing finals hopes, saying the club could do little more than move on to next week.

The Saints at least do not play another game against a top-eight team after the Sharks match, though the round-22 clash with Canberra now looms as crucial.

Of the four teams contending for eighth spot, the Raiders also have a friendly run home after Saturday's home match against a depleted Penrith.

Manly in ninth spot, meanwhile, have difficult games against Parramatta and Cronulla in the next stint. The Roosters' run is a nightmare, with Brisbane, the Cowboys, Melbourne and South Sydney all ahead.

Further up the ladder, congestion is also rife with only the top-placed Panthers enjoying breathing space, six points clear of the chasing pack.

The Cowboys' win on Sunday means their hopes of a top-two finish and back-to-back home games in the finals remains in their hands as they sit a win clear of the chasing pack in second.

Third-placed Cronulla are also a win ahead of Melbourne, Brisbane and Parramatta, and should claim a top-four spot barring a capitulation given their draw.

Brisbane and Melbourne then appear likely to battle it out for the last spot in the top four, with sixth-placed Parramatta facing a tough draw to finish the season.

The seventh-placed Rabbitohs' run is also particularly difficult, but two wins from their final five games will likely be enough to ensure a fifth straight finals series.

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