St George Illawarra Dragons Head Coach Steve Price enters 2014 under contract until the end of the season. But this is Rugby League, where contracts can be torn up months after they have been signed and if the Dragons limp through the first half of the season, Price may well be out of a job. The season has not started well for the Dragons, following a sub par effort at the Auckland Nines, where they were humbled 23-4 by the Rabbitohs and then fell 23-8 to the Panthers, before saving face with a 14-10 victory over an under strength Melbourne Storm.
The club has Paul McGregor on board as assistant coach and he is a club legend, has coached local side Wests Illawarra to three straight Illawarra Coal League premierships from 2009-2011 and stepped up to coach NSW Cup side the Illawarra Cutters for their first two seasons in 2012 and 2013. Price has been hampered by an ageing roster, inherited by the highly successful Wayne Bennett era and he had no half back last year, relying on veteran Nathan Fien who struggled with the playmaking duties. Now he has his team; an impressive back line laden with representative stars, great young forwards led by Trent Merrin, Jack De Belin and Jack Stockwell, and the final piece to the puzzle, a classy playmaker, not seen at the club since Trent Barrett. The return of both Kyle Stanley and Gerard Beale will have fans salivating at the potential of the club, which has spent the last two seasons in finals wilderness after making the finals eight times in its’ first eleven seasons.
The Dragons looked OK at the back-end of 2013 where they actually managed to score points following the arrival of Josh Dugan. Unfortunately a lacklustre first half of the season meant they had forgotten how to win games.Their back three of Dugan, Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale is as good as any in the NRL and they have a plethora of young forwards ready to take the club into a new and successful era. Add to that experienced players like former Canberra Raiders back rower/centre Joel Thompson and Mike Cooper who starred for the Warrington Wolves in the UK Super League, and Price finally has a number of options when it comes to the make-up of his starting thirteen. In fact he almost has too many.
Charly Runciman’s impressive performances in 2013 weren’t enough to earn him a start in the Charity Shield, with Price opting for Gerard Beale and Dylan Farrell, with a halves combination of Gareth Widdop and Sam Wiliams. The full squad looks impressive and there are several spots up for grabs, which should bring out the best in the Dragons.
Price has all the ingredients of a side capable of going all the way, he just needs to put it all together. Injuries, suspensions and representative duty will play their part as usual, but unlike in previous years, he has the depth to cover these losses and we could see the Dragons breathe fire once again in 2014.
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