Dragons players have urged disgruntled supporters to get behind them as they aim to become the first team to win the NRL premiership from outside the top four.
Angry St George Illawarra supporters gathered around the tunnel at Jubilee Oval after last Sunday’s 38-0 loss to Canterbury to let the players know in no uncertain terms how they felt, and one fan later posted footage of him burning his jersey on social media.
Prop James Graham had a Dragons scarf thrown at him and other players needed to be dissuaded from responding to the abuse, which was so vitriolic at times that police felt the need to intervene.
While Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin said throwing things at players was unacceptable, they admitted the fans had a right to be unhappy with such a performance on the eve of the finals.
“We are in the top eight but to be honest I can see where they are coming from,” Sims said. “Memberships and tickets aren’t cheap so to hand over their hard-earned cash and be let down like that, I would be pretty filthy myself.”
De Belin described the performance as “embarrassing” and said St George Illawarra fans deserved better.
“It was hard but at the same time they are very passionate, the Dragons fans, so when you are winning they are right behind you and when you are losing they can kind of turn on you,” de Belin said.
“We hold ourselves accountable, we know it wasn’t good enough and the fans were quick to remind us that it wasn’t good enough as well.”
Sims also praised the passion of St George Illawarra fans and said their support could lift the team during the finals.
“I love the passion that St George Illawarra fans have, they turn out in droves and they travel and they pack out the hill, and carry their banners and that is just something that as a player really inspires me,” he said.
“As a player, with fans so passionate that they’re screaming, they’re cheering and they’re crying, I think something about that really inspires me to want to go out there and satisfy them, and make them proud of myself and the club in general.”
Despite winning just two of their last eight games to drop out of top-four contention last Sunday, the Dragons are confident they can regain their early-season form and advance deep into the finals.
If they can achieve that, de Belin pointed out the Dragons had beaten the top four teams – Melbourne, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and Cronulla – this season, and were capable of becoming the first team to win the Telstra Premiership from the bottom half of the eight.
“When you look at the big picture we are going to make finals and I supposed plenty of teams that haven’t been in the top four have gone on deep runs or teams have lost a lot going into the finals and had a deep run,” de Belin said.
“The ball’s in our court, how we want to handle it is up to us. We have just got to stay positive and know what we have got here in the group and the culture we have created at the Dragons.
“We have played all the top four sides and beaten them so I feel like when we are on our game we can beat anyone.”
Asked if he had a message for Dragons fans, de Belin said: “Players don’t go out there to lose. We know we have got to be better and we are accountable”.