THEY may have paid for their lack of execution, but St Pat's coach Zac Merritt believes the physicality his men showed in Sunday's 12-8 loss to Mudgee is proof they can be Peter McDonald Premiership contenders.
In wet and muddy conditions at Jack Arrow Oval, completion rates were poor from both sides in the first half.
The Dragons reached the kick just once in their first six sets, while the Saints were only marginally better with a 53 percent completion rate.
But in the second half when the Dragons were able to show better ball security, time and time again when the Saints were building in attack a handling error followed.
"The field was wet and the ball was slippery - it's something we've got to work on. I think we had a lot opportunities there we probably should have counted on, two or three tries missed which win us the game," Merritt conceded.
"We did have enough chances [to win], a couple of little one percenters there, bad passes to finish on and a couple of knock-ons, they're the little things we've got work on, that's what's been beating us.
"Against good sides you've got to take those opportunities, so we'll keep working on it."
Though Merritt knew his side cost themselves a win against Mudgee, what he was happy with was the tough brand of football they played.
A number of Mudgee's handling errors were caused by big defensive hits and the Dragons were often driven backwards in three-man tackles.
A highlight came in the first half when Jackson Brien, Hayden Bolam and Aaron Mawhinney jolted the ball out of the arms of Mudgee fullback Nathan Orr to earn a scrum 10 metres out from the line.
The Dragons had their defensive highlights too - hooker Billy Carberry in particular knocking Saints off their feet.
"It was tough, it was tough. Mudgee are physical, we wanted to be physical today, we weren't physical last week and that's one an area we wanted to fix. So we brought our physicality there today," Merritt said.
"I think if we keep bringing a performance like that there, we're going to be sitting up the top of the ladder.
"I think today we really showed we have a team that can battle the best. Look they've got two ex-NRL players for them and we competed with them and we'll just keep building on that."
The Saints opened scoring just three minutes into the round five clash after a penalty gifted them back-to-back sets.
A charging Luke Single crashed through Mudgee's goal-line defence and Matt Beattie's conversion made it 6-0.
That was a rare attacking highlight as the error count built against both sides, Mudgee completing just two sets in the first 20 minutes.
Just under four minutes out from the break Mudgee finally put together a slick set and it resulted in points, a grubber from skipper Jack Littlejohn bouncing favourably for Ben Thompson. Lee Hicks added the extra to lock it up at 6-all.
But in the shadows of half-time, Mudgee was penalised for stripping the ball. The Saints opted to take a shot on goal, which Beattie nailed to put his side up 8-6.
What was to prove the match winner came two minutes after play resumed as the Dragons switched up their attacking angles.
Second rower Chad Chandler made a 45 degree run onto a Pacey Stockton short-ball then off-loaded to a hard and straight running Nathan Orr. It opened up the Saints defence.
Hicks added the extras to make it 12-8 and while a host of attacking chances for both sides were created in the minutes which followed - particularly from the Saints - none were converted.
Mudgee coach Jack Littlejohn said the key for his side was both better support play and ball movement in attack during the second half.
"Our completions in that first half were terrible, I probably haven't seen us play sort that bad in awhile," he said.
"Pretty slippery conditions, it is wet, that's why the field's a bit boggy but that's no excuse. We've got to be better than that.
"We went into the sheds at half-time and spoke about the basics, holding on to the ball, moving them around a little bit. They were going one out a bit in the first half and whacking us, and that was causing us to lose the ball."
The Dragons' playmaker was also delighted with the grit his side showed in defence as they made a huge amount of tackles in their own half to restrict Pat's to just a single try.
"They probably had a couple of missed opportunities where they could've scored, but we scrapped for everything," he said.
"We've always been good at that scrapping and turning up for your mates, so yeah I definitely had the faith we could hold on.
"It was a gutsy win and those are the wins that are going to help you at the back end of the season."
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