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2014 NRL Season Review: St George Illawarra Dragons

St George Illawarra Dragons
Position: 11th

Record: 11 wins, 13 losses

Top Point Scorer: Gareth Widdop (137)

Top Try Scorer: Jason Nightingale (16)

Summary
Season 2014 started so brightly for the St George Illawarra Dragons, jumping out of the gates with 3 straight wins and scoring 89 points in the process.What followed was a horror 9-game stretch that saw the Dragons win just twice to slide down the ladder. Their 36-0 loss to the Parramatta Eels in round 10, was Benji Marshall’s first for the club, and head coach Steve Price’s last. Former captain Paul McGregor guided the team for the remainder of the season where they slowly improved to finish just outside the top 8.

The Good
Under the guidance McGregor, the Dragons added respect to a season that was quickly spiralling out of control. They won 7 from 14 under McGregor, who has since been given the reigns for the next three seasons. They pushed the likes of the Roosters, Sea Eagles and Panthers all the way and were unlucky not to win those matches. The arrival of Gareth Widdop to the club gave the Dragons much-needed class in the halves, not seen since the days of Trent Barrett. Widdop’s combination with Benji Marshall improved as the season wore on and they will be even better with a full off-season together. Josh Dugan proved to be a very handy centre when he made the switch at the suggestion of McGregor and he was good enough to be a NSW centre in 2014. Leeson Ah Mau had his best season at the club and was a constant threat on the edges.

The Bad
A horrible run of losses towards the middle of the season, that saw just 2 wins in 9 games and cost Steve Price his job was a dark period for the proud club. On seven occasions in 2014 they were beaten by at least 16 points which made it very difficult to maintain their for and against and between rounds 8-10, they conceded a whopping 108 points. Injuries to key men Tyson Frizell and Brett Morris at various stages hurt their finals ambitions while two off-season recruits, Sam Williams and Michael Witt failed to deliver; Williams was released halfway through the season following the acquisition of Marshall, while a knee injury early in the season restricted Witt to just 4 games. They lacked size in the forwards, and this will need to change if they are to have any chance of playing finals in 2015.

The Future: 2015
The Dragons have a few players unsigned and have not made any new signings for 2015. Key forwards Jack De Belin and Jack Stockwell are locked away until 2017,while Tyson Frizell is signed until 2018. Outstanding young centre Charly Runciman is signed until the end of 2016 and will compete with Peter Mata’utia and Dylan Farrell for the left centre role next year. They have a number of players un-signed for next year including utility Kyle Stanley and second rowers Will Matthews, Nathan Green and Bronson Harrison. Stanley and Matthews have probably done enough to earn new contracts; Matthews had his best season yet in 2014, while Stanley offers great utility value off the bench. McGregor has hinted at changes in the playing roster but no names have been mentioned. Their performances in 2014 suggest they need at least a couple of big forwards and they could do a lot worse than enquire about the likes of Sam Kasiano, Willie Mason and Ben Hannant.

University of Wollongong alumni and aspiring journalist.

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