Dragons coach Paul McGregor refused to use the disruption of the past eight weeks of representative football as an excuse for a drop in attitude and energy in the 20-16 loss to the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
He had five players backing up four days after the final Holden State of Origin game, in Ben Hunt, Tariq Sims, Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan.
But McGregor also had James Graham, Gareth Widdop and Leeson Ah Mau over in Denver for the England-New Zealand Test, plus Tim Lafai and Luciano Leilua called up to Pacific Nation duties.
McGregor said his Origin stars were handled with care and were ready to play since the 2018 Origin series wound up at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
"If you look at their minutes and the time off they've had in between and look at their recovery… Paul Vaughan played all three Origins and was probably the best on the field [today]," McGregor said.
"It's not an excuse. We can certainly manage their workloads through the GPS system and what they do at training.
"At this stage, we all need to get back together and start working hard for the back end of the year."
But privately McGregor must be glad the rep duties have ended, allowing he and his players to focus on the run home to the finals as the Dragons remain entrenched in the top four despite the Tigers loss.
Match Highlights: Dragons v Wests Tigers - Round 18, 2018
"Preparation and training is something we did really well at the start of the year, with a lot of continuity from week to week," he said.
"Obviously that repetition stuff we took on the field each week. Getting them back together is going to help that.
"But at the back end of this game we looked the freshest. A bit of possession and we took a run at the opposition," McGregor said referring to the burst of two late tries that nearly snatched a victory.
"It's something we'll address as a group when we get back to training on Tuesday, because we showed that when we got a bit of field position and played a bit of footy there was a lot of energy."
McGregor maintained the Dragons error rate (16), and no field position, added on the back of the Tigers kicking game did more damage than having all five Origin players back up.
Captain Gareth Widdop agreed pointing to the poor completion rate of 66%, compared with 81% to the Tigers.
"We fought back at the end there but it was too late. We're not going to win any football game when your completion rate is that low," Widdop said.
"We need to fix that up and we'll do that."
Widdop wasn't so forthcoming on why he changed his hair colour to blond.
"Everyone is telling me it's a lost bet, but I'll keep you guessing."