SOMETIMES you're hot, sometimes you're not and it was a case of the latter for St George Illawarra, which features Gerringong’s Tariq Sims, on Sunday afternoon in their 24-10 loss to the Rabbitohs.
It was a match that promised so much – Cam McInnes and Damien Cook going head to head for the NSW number nine, the Greg Inglis-Euan Aitken rematch, the return of Slammin’ Sam Burgess.
Those story lines never quite sparked the contest and not much else did after Hymel Hunt and Angus Chrichton crossed for the Rabbotohs, which included Nowra-born Cody Walker, in the first six minutes.
Two Adam Reynolds’penalty goals were the only other points in the next 61 minutes of footy, with the Dragons normally slick attack looking anything but as they looked to chase the points.
Tyson Frizell finally broke their duck with 13 minutes to play, scooping up a Sam Burgess fumble and racing 90 metres to score and cut the margin to 10, but it was as close as they got.
Campbell Graham latched onto a deflected Reynolds grubber five minutes later to push the margin back beyond two converted tries. It effectively put the match to bed before Frizell and Greg Inglis traded four-pointers in the final five minutes.
The loss won't see the Dragons surrender the competition lead, but coach Paul McGregor conceded his side was simply off.
“We were a bit late to the dance today,”McGregor said.
“It's been a hard month for us and today we were a little bit below what we've been playing. They were a little bit more physical and had a little bit more intent to start the game.
“We've been winning games through forcing errors from the opposition and they turned that around on us today so full credit to them. Statistically we probably looked all right but, as I said to the boys, there's no statistic for intent and effort.
"We weren't down that much, we were just down a touch and they scored a couple of quick tries on us. I thought we wrestled it back at different stages, it wasn't the whole 80 minutes.
“I thought at different stages we really won the fightback but we didn't get that try we needed. When you get that try you grow a little bit and get another one.
“They had four try-saves where we got over the line but didn't get the ball down and we didn't score the try so we lost those opportunities. With losing those opportunities we sunk a little bit, instead of growing.”
The loss came just a week after Craig Bellamy anointed the Dragons as the “benchmark.” Sunday's defeat was a timely reminder of the rigours of carrying that tag, but McGregor said it didn't leave him overly concerned ahead of next week's clash with Canberra.
“If it happens consistently it will [be concerning] but it hasn't happened before so, right now, no,” McGregor said when asked if he was concerned.
“We'll definitely have a real good look at it, there's no doubting that. You've got to learn from losing and winning and this will be one of those times where the pictures won't look as good.
“We had a few blokes who didn't train through the week and that's the first time that's happened but it's not an excuse. We were ready to play to day, we just didn't bring our best.
“You've got to play good week to week to play finals footy and then you're ready. If teams think we are the benchmark we've just got to go out and make sure we go out and don't disappoint.”