Ricky’s Season Previews Part 13: St George Illawarra Dragons

As we approach the end of the end of the season previews with this being number 13 and all, it’s the Dragons who go under today’s microscope – can they fill the void left by retiring players Ben Hornby and Dean Young?

Steve Price’s first year in charge was quite a rough one, but with the start of the 2013 season just around the corner, it brings with it hope, optimism and belief that with an experienced roster, things may be different for the Dragons in 2013.

Perhaps the biggest key for the Dragons, will be how they cope without Ben Hornby in the halves, after the Dragons veteran retired last year.
With several options to consider for his vacant halfback role, a lot of the impetus in attack going forward is set to rest in the hands of Jamie Soward, who will be out for a big year following an inconsistent one last year.
Soward is a player that has copped a mountain of criticism throughout his career and no doubt he will cop some this year – but with a solid season in a Dragons side that some have billed as wooden spoon contenders, he can get the monkeys off his back and ensure that he plays a key role in the Dragons potential run to the finals.

With the halfback spot a contentious one after Hornby’s departure, it’s likely that Price will opt for experience in the halves and pick Nathan Fien, rather than the exciting, promising talent Josh Drinkwater, one of the club’s recruits from Manly.
With the majority of fans wanting to see Drinkwater in action, in some ways, the perceived justification by Price to pick Fien for Rd 1 makes sense, given the experience and versatility that Fien brings to the side.
Despite that, however, Fien has had his own share of criticism in the past, with some fans having concerns that he isn’t quite the answer at halfback for the club, given he has played hooker a fair bit over the last few years.

Eventually, as the season wears on and depending on results, the opportunity for Drinkwater may arise in 2013, and when it does – it’s almost a guarantee that Dragons fans and fans across the NRL will be waiting with keen interest as to how he’d perform at the NRL level.
Drinkwater, who was by far Manly’s best player in the NYC last year, as he led from the front in producing try-scoring opportunities to keep Manly in contests and win games, at times – is a tremendous talent.

With the possibility of Drinkwater playing, he’ll be keen to emulate the success of the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans and Adam Reynolds in recent years, who have had immediate success in their first year of footy.
With the talent and skills to excel in the NRL, all Drinkwater needs perhaps is an opportunity – one that allows him to get stuck in, have a crack and put his skills to good use.
As to when that will be, only time will tell.

When it comes to the Dragons recruits, whilst they didn’t buy a lot of players overall, they did buy some key players – with the likes of Gerard Beale, Bronson Harrison and Tyson Frizell signing on, the first two with representative experience for New Zealand and Frizell for Wales.
Not only do the players have experience on the international stage, they both have experience at club level, too.

Beale, who joins the Dragons from Brisbane, did so with the intent of making the fullback spot his own and with the likes of Morris and Nightingale more suited to the wing and a vacant fullback spot available, the opportunity for Beale to play fullback was there, so he took it.
Beale, whilst not in the elite range of fullbacks (not yet anyway), is a handy addition for the Dragons at the back, as he’ll look to not only cement the spot and make it his own, but he’ll also look to get the Dragons attack started from the back and use his ball skills to cause some damage with the backs and halves on the fringes, much like Darius Boyd did a few years back when he was still at the club.

Frizell, who I think is one of the best upcoming back-rowers in the competition has the potential to be a big hit at the Dragons.
Leaving the Sharks who have a star-studded back-row, Frizell joins the Dragons and will in all likelihood be named to start in the back-row, in what is a massive boost for not only Frizell himself, but for the Dragons club as a whole.
The Welsh representative is coming off a very solid finish to the season with the Sharks, putting on some performances that had people watching and asking just who that was – so you would envisage that Frizell will be looking to emulate that end of season form for his new club.
In time, it is quite possible that should he stay with the club long-term, Frizell might become a future leader of the Dragons pack.

Then you have Bronson Harrison who joined the club from the Raiders this off-season.
Harrison, who has had a big of a bad run of injuries of late sought a fresh start and found an opportunity at the Dragons – a player who just a few years ago was in career best form and on his way to potentially locking down a first-grade spot at the Raiders.
Fast forward a few years into the future and Harrison has the chance to do the same for the Dragons, but he’ll have to work for that spot and get there ahead of some healthy competition.

Overall, when it comes to the Dragons, the easy thing to do is to write them off, but when you think about – experience galore is something they have, with the likes of Morris, Cooper and Nightingale in the back-line, Fien in the halves and Creagh in the back-row, all of whom have rep experience and more 150 games to their name.
Whilst the club may yet be undertaking a work in progress route, there’s no denying that the talent is there and if they play to their potential and with the right attitude as team, anything is possible.

Two players to watch out for are: Mitch Rein – a budding, upcoming hooker who after a solid year in 2012 is only going to get better in 2013, a frightening proposition for opposition teams, given how well he played last year with his smarts, skills and darting runs from dummy half.
Second player to watch – Evander Cummins. Huge wraps on this kid and he’s a tremendous talent, so one would presume that it’s only a matter of time before he plays first-grade.

1. Gerard Beale
2. Jason Nightingale
3. Daniel Vidot
4. Matt Cooper
5. Brett Morris
6. Jamie Soward
7. Nathan Fien
8. Michael Weyman
9. Mitch Rein
10. Trent Merrin
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Ben Creagh
13. Bronson Harrison

14. Cameron King
15. Michael Henderson
16. Dan Hunt
17. Jack De Belin.

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