A heavy tally of missed tackles sewed the seeds of defeat according to Dragons coach Anthony Griffin as he watched his side capitulate to Manly 32-18 at Cbus Super Stadium.
The Dragons led 14-12 at halftime but found it difficult to stop the waves of Sea Eagles attack.
"Our missed tackles were atrocious tonight - I think we had over 40," Griffin said.
The missed tackles numbered 45 along with making only 12 tackle-breaks in attack, compared with Manly's 44. The Sea Eagles also made six line breaks to the Dragons two.
"The first try [Morgan Harper] they got and then the one [Cade] Cust scored in the second half... that's 12 points there they didn't have to earn," Griffin said of the poor one-on-one reads in defence.
Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Dragons
Certainly, the Dragons were down on troops - six in total: three players on suspension over the barbecue biosecurity breach, two in Sydney over delays in NRL integrity unit paperwork from that incident, plus sacked former Origin prop Paul Vaughan, who hosted the party.
But Griffin refused to lay the blame for the loss at the feet of those missing.
"They'd be disappointed like all of us. We put ourselves in a position to win that game. But our first 10 minutes in the second half were disastrous for us defensively."
Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran and utility hooker Cust scored tries within six minutes after the break, snatching the lead back off the Dragons. Manly was not headed after that.
"They've [suspended players] paid a price and as a club we've come together. Since we got up here on Wednesday we've had a good week of training," Griffin said.
"The thing that happened at Shellharbour is over and has been dealt with.
Sloan scores a beauty
"We fought hard for the 80 minutes even though we didn't play that well. They were just too good tonight and we were poor in a lot of areas.
"I thought the whole game was just patchy. We tried to play some footy at times, we tried to surge defensively at times, but they were very good. They picked us apart a few times."
Griffin did reserve some praise for Ben Hunt, who scored two tries to seal Queensland's Game III victory in Origin on Wednesday night but backed up 48 hours to try to get two wins at the same ground in the same week.
Hunt's clever down-field kick set up Tyrell Sloan and Gerard Beale to combine and finish off the Dragons' third try in the 72nd minute. But it was all too late.
"He did try [hard]. He's had a big two or three days so we'll give him a long rest now," Griffin said.