NRL rise cold comfort for gutted Dragons

At some point, Paul McGregor knows he will be able to see the positives out of the 2017 NRL season.

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But that point isn’t likely to arrive any time soon.

McGregor was a shattered man following St George Illawarra’s 26-20 loss to Canterbury on Sunday, which ended the Dragons’ finals hopes.

The Dragons were widely tipped to go closer to the wooden spoon than the play-offs at the start of the season, making their ninth-place finish a significant result.

But that would be cold comfort to McGregor, who watched his side become just the third in 23 years of the top-eight system to go from first spot after seven rounds to missing the finals.

“Right now I’m actually gutted,” McGregor said.

“But I’m sure once I assess the year there is a lot of good things to look at.

“If you look at our development throughout the year, how much we’ve improved from this time last year, there is only one way for the club, and that’s forward.

“But we all start the pre-season in October to play finals footy … That’s why you like to be involved in the game to play in the best time of the year.

“And that starts next week, and we’re not going to be a part of it.”

The Dragons had their chances to book a finals spot on Sunday.

They led 20-14 with 20 minutes to play, before the Bulldogs sealed it with two late tries.

Josh Dugan was also held up by Will Hopoate after he looked certain to score a try which would have created a 10-point lead

But McGregor said their early post-season holiday couldn’t be blamed on Sunday’s result.

“There’s six games this year that come to mind that could’ve went each way and we didn’t win any of them,” he said.

“The competition is that tight, when you don’t win the close ones continually you don’t play finals footy.”

Dragons captain Gareth Widdop echoed McGregor’s sentiments.

“We played some good football, that’s for sure – we certainly improved on last year,” he said.

“But you want to play finals and we didn’t. I’m certainly disappointed.”

The Dragons will welcome halfback Ben Hunt to the club next year, while star centre Dugan will depart for Cronulla.

Dugan shed tears on the field following the loss, but refused to talk to waiting media following his return match after being dropped for missing the team bus.