North Coast let the Laurie Daley Cup slip through their fingers with an uncharacteristic error-riddled performance in their 40-20 loss to Illawarra South Coast on Sunday.
Coach Matt Freebairn said what the group had achieved over the last six months had been outstanding and while disappointed not to lift the trophy he felt the foundation had been laid for future success.
"Winning is great, but achieving something as a group and an organisation and moving forward is even better," he said.
"Now we've got a really good basis for what we actually do stand for and I think that's been growing over the last few years. Now I've got a group of players who want to go and be a North Coast Bulldog.
"I've got 16s and 15s who know what we stand for and I think that's better than holding up a Laurie Daley Cup."
And while it would have been nice to cap off an undefeated season with a grand final win, Freebairn looked at things from a different viewpoint.
"I don't ever look back in regret because we achieved above and beyond what the expectations ever were for us," he said.
"We set out to win the Laurie Daley Cup and we fell one game short.
"But we've got some 17-year-old's who were part of that grand final squad or that 25-man squad where it's created a burning hunger in them to go and win that cup next year."
The Bulldogs trailed 18-4 at the break before they retained the lead where they ran in three tries in six minutes at the start of the second half.
Unfortunately they couldn't maintain the rage and when the Dragons stemmed the flow of possession, they turned it into points.
"Grand finals are about opportunities and moments, aren't they and to their full credit the Dragons took their opportunities," Freebairn said.
"There was a massive momentum shift after halftime and that pretty much ended the game, but I couldn't be prouder of the playing group."
The passes that had been sticking all season went to ground as the Bulldogs played catch-up.
"In the previous eight games and trial matches during the season, those passes came off and on that day they didn't," Freebairn said.
"That's footy, mate, that's what makes it such a great game, but of course it stings to lose a grand final."
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