Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 4: St George Illawarra Dragons

Up to the fourth preview already and today, the preview is on the St George Illawarra Dragons. They have the players to perform and play well but they can be consistent and get the best out of players, or will it be the same as the last couple of seasons with players not performing to their abilities? Just how long will coach Steve Price have if things go South?

GAINS: Junior Vaivai (Pre Season – Penrith Panthers) Joel Thompson(Raiders) Gareth Widdop(Storm)Mike Cooper(Warrington)Josh Dugan(Raiders) Dylan Farrell(Rabbitohs) Sam Williams (Raiders) Peter Mata’utia (Knights) Josh Ailaomai (Roosters) Matt Groat (Wests Tigers) Michael Witt (London Broncos)

The primary question that anyone is going to ask about the Dragons – particularly their fans – is what can we expect from the Dragons outfit and how will coach Steve Price get the best out of his side moving forward? Although players have supported Price in the role in the past, speculation has never quite died down that the club is considering a move for a new coach and with some fans clearly upset with how Price has fared with the team, just how long does he have in the role before a decision is made?

Dragons fans will be the first to tell you that the last couple of years have been lean – certainly not reaching the heights of their 2010 season that saw them win the premiership – but with a new year comes fresh hope and optimism. Strengthening their side in several key areas over the last couple of years, the Dragons are a team that you wouldn’t write off in the premiership race, given the talent at their disposal.

Already sporting some elite players in numerous positions such as Josh Dugan at fullback and Trent Merrin in the forwards, couple with some strong new signings in Joel Thompson, Gareth Widdop and Dylan Farrell, all eyes will be on how quickly they can gel together as a unit and how each of the new recruits performs in a new environment, in a new system and under a new coach.

Perhaps the one player that can potentially make the biggest impact and one that will be a key for the Dragons, is Gareth Widdop. Departing the Storm at the end of last season to get away from the shadow of the big 3 and make the most of his own ability, all eyes will be on Widdop and how he performs, as well as on how well he can combine with his halves team-mate and the rest of the team.
NRL fans know that he has the skills and talent to succeed but can he do it away from the big 3 at the Storm and just how long will it take for him to have the desired impact?

Another player who is not under any immediate pressure but does need to step up and lead from the front, is Dragons captain Ben Creagh.
At times criticised by Dragons fans for not doing just that – leading from the front – the onus is on him to perform and do so well, and helping to guide the younger players in the squad – particularly the forwards – if the Dragons are to get the desired momentum and go forward early on.
Recently shifting to prop has seemingly lifted his individual workload but the key for Creagh will be to get the ball rolling and show his team-mates what has to be done early on.

As for the Dragons recruitment, they went relatively hard out, signing players in areas that needed strengthening. Halves was the one particular area that was lacking, especially with the departure of Jamie Soward. So, along with signing Gareth Widdop, they made a move for Canberra Raiders half Sam Williams, who is likely to play alongside Widdop in Rd 1.
Another key signing – and perhaps one that has the potential to make the most impact – is Joel Thompson. Also signed from the Raiders, Thompson’s dynamic ability on the fringes to hit the line with acceleration and at times break the line is a great trait of his and with the Dragons lacking that in the past, he could be the x-factor the club has been looking for in that regard. The consummate quiet achiever, Thompson is a well-liked player among many fans and also someone that quite a few fans look for when it comes to Supercoach.

Ultimately, the Dragons are a side that can perform and perform well on their day. As past years have shown, though, they are also prone to rather bad games and this has cost them in the past when it matters. With a relatively strong side across the board and a solid amount of depth to boot, they have all the opportunities to succeed. As is the case with most years, though, all the focus is going to be on their two new halves.

Here’s the side I would go with based on several factors:

1. Josh Dugan
2. Brett Morris
3. Gerard Beale
4. Dylan Farrell
5. Jason Nightingale
6. Gareth Widdop
7. Sam Williams
8. Ben Creagh (C)
9. Mitch Rein
10. Jack de Belin
11. Joel Thompson
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Trent Merrin

14. Kyle Stanley
15. Bronson Harrison
16. Dan Hunt
17. Mike Cooper

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