HE’S sick of answering them – most of the media are sick of asking them – but Dragons coach Paul McGregor knows there’s only one way to silence questions about whether his side, featuring Gerringong’s Tariq Sims, are again suffering from the late-season yips.
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There was no ignoring them following his side’s 18-12 loss to the Warriors in Wollongong on Saturday, their fourth defeat in their last five games, a second-half fightback not enough to overhaul an 18-nil half-time deficit.
Both early-season pace-setters came into the match with some questions to answer, with the Warriors having lost four of their last five, with coach Stephen Kearney blasting his side’s performance in their 36-12 pasting at the hands of the Gold Coast last week as "soft.”
He got the response he was looking for, with the win enough to force the Warriors back into the top four frame, while the Dragons are left teetering on the edge of the top four with four games to play.
A slide out of the finals is near impossible, but their grip on a prized top-four finish is very much in jeopardy despite a favourable run home, with McGregor aware the only place silence to talk is on the park.
“It’s not going away until you win is it,” McGregor said.
“I’ve got a different playing group and we’re in a different position to what we have been before, I don’t want to revisit it. Our vision’s on what we need to do, not a revision.
“However, everyone’s going to talk about it, it’s going to be raised again, because we lost. There’s nothing anyone can do except, when you go on the footy field and when you go to training, you work to fix your game.
“We can speak about it and we can practice it, but in the end, we’ve got to execute once we go out on the field. We’re all accountable for our roles so people in the team have got to make sure we stick to what the plan is.”
The Warriors built the handy buffer with three tries in the final nine minutes of the first half with Dragons fullback Matt Dufty watching on from the sheds after being dispatched to the sin-bin 11 minutes before the break.
His tug on the jersey of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as the Warriors skipper pursued his own grubber proved the telling moment of the match, with the Dragons conceding three tries and bombing one of their own in the ensuing 10 minutes.
“It was [costly] in the wash-up,” McGregor said.
The sin-binning at that stage didn’t help. [We held the Warriors] to a zero scorline in the second half, we scored a couple of tries, we started to build pressure, our kicking game was better, we played through them a lot more.
“We controlled their offloads a lot better and made it a contest. Our second half was much better than our first and that’s where it’s got to start next week.”
The loss was compounded by an injury to Origin prop Paul Vaughan, who was left writhing in pain when he twisted awkwardly in a tackle from Adam Blair and Agnatius Paasi just 11 minutes into the match.
He hobbled from the park nursing knee and ankle soreness and McGregor conceded the outlook wasn’t positive in the immediate aftermath, with his star forward looking at at least some time on the sideline.
“It’s not great,” McGregor said.
“He’s got a boot on down there but he’s no sure whether it’s his knee or his ankle. He heard something pop and he’s in a bit of freeze mode at the moment.
“He’s concerned to be honest. We’ll have to wait until we get a scan and go from there but it doesn’t look promising at all.”
Both sides had opportunities early on but couldn't find the breakthrough, with Shaun Johnson settling for a 19th minute penalty goal to break the nil-all deadlock. Simon Mannring claimed the first four-pointer 10 minutes before half-time when he planted a grubber from Tuivasa-Sheck in the Dragons in-goal.
Dufty also got a hand to the ball, which was enough for the bunker to deny the try, but it earned him 10 minutes in the sin-bin for grabbing Tuivasa-Sheck by the jumper in the lead-up.
The Warriors twisted the knife, with Solomone Kata crossing in the very next set off an offload from Isaiah Papali’i. Johnson's attempted conversion was waved away keeping the score at 8-nil nine minutes before the break.
Isaac Luke extended the margin two minutes later when he burrowed over between the posts from a clever off-load from Jazz Tevaga, with Johnson adding the extras for a 14-nil lead.
The Dragons had the chance to hit back when David Fusitu’a spilled a bomb from Ben Hunt, with Lafai barging into the Warriors in-goal only to be denied by a remarkable try-saving effort from Tuivasa Sheck.
The home side's woes were compunded when Kata scored his second try at the other end in the shadows of half-time, with Johnson's sideline conversion mercifully waved away to keep the gap to three converted tries at half-time.
The hosts made light work of the deficit after the resumption, with tries to Cam McInnes and Luciano Leilua in the space of four minutes cutting the margin back to six with half an hour to play.
The home side had all the running from there, but couldn’t find the leveler despite a glut of possession, a jolting shot from Adam Blair on Jason Nightingale stomping out the Dragons last shot at pulling the match out of the fire.
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