It’s a huge year for the St George-Illawarra club ahead of Ben Hunt’s arrival at the club in 2018.  Two burning questions remain.  What does the future hold for Josh Dugan and his coach, Paul McGregor?

Last season placing: 11th place

Summary

2016 was a season that lacked any momentum, let alone scoring opportunities with England international Gareth Widdop and former Kiwi superstar Benji Marshall in the halves.

341 points in attack was the worse since the club was formed in 1999.

Amazingly they were inside the eight after sixteen rounds, but a five game losing streak put pay to their finals chances.  In pockets there were some encouraging results with wins over six of the top eight sides, including a huge win over the premiers Cronulla Sharks 32-18 in round 23.

A breakthrough win in both the Intrust Super Premiership and NRL State Championship with feeder club Illawarra Cutters demonstrates a new breed of players including Shaun Nona and Drew Hutchinson are set to play some part in the 2017 senior side campaign.

Key Players

Gareth Widdop

Gareth Widdop’s leadership around the paddock will be crucial to how the Dragons go this season.  It will be interesting to see how his game evolves with the extra responsibility of nurturing Drew Hutchinson into a long term NRL footballer.  For the Red V to be any chance of making the finals his general play and point scoring is going to make the difference between success and failure.

Josh Dugan

By far the greatest weapon in the Dragons attack, Josh Dugan has been a consistent performer for the Dragons in his four year tenure with the club.  With contract negotiations going on in the background this is the perfect year for the fullback to become more involved, playing closer to the line like Matt Moylan does with Penrith.  This year we might see the best of Dugan if he can stay away from injury.

Tim Lafai

During the Bulldogs success of 2014 and 2015, Tim Lafai was destructive when taking on the defence and creating opportunities out wide.  Last year we didn’t even get close to seeing that at Lafai went missing with the Dragons struggling to put points on the board.  Off-contract at season’s end, this will be a career defining 2017 for the twenty-five year old who is playing for his immediate future.

Story of 2017

The continuing uncertainty of Paul McGregor’s future at the club will dominate the 2017 landscape until he falls on his sword, or loses the confidence of the Dragons board.  There’s a couple of good coaches out there, including former Panthers coach Ivan Cleary who could inject some life into the club.

Some tricky negotiations off-field with the negotiations on Josh Dugan and Jason Nightingale’s contract coming to a head.  This is largely thanks to the Ben Hunt multi-million contract that will squeeze their salary cap enormously.

Not sure the fans, or rugby league community think Ben Hunt is worth a cool million. Dragons fans are known to be one of the most passionate in the league and this is likely to dominate chat on the famous Kogarah hill ahead of their opening game.

Predictions:

Top Try Scorer: Nene McDonald

Top Point Scorer: Gareth Widdop

Player of the Year: Josh Dugan

  • Michael Sultana

    If the Dragons were to make the finals this year I would consider
    that a job well done. Ever since Paul McGregor took over as coach in
    2015 he has had to deal with three deficiencies as far as team structure
    goes.

    1. The forward personnel lack ball players that can either
    hit the line and offload or can attract enough defenders with their own
    skills to create gaps for second phase play. This has become
    increasingly difficult ever since Trent Merrin left the club to join
    Panthers. He is yet to be adequately replaced and his skills are sadly missed.

    2. Gareth Widdop was recruited to the Dragons as a running five-eigth
    and even as a potential candidate for the fullback position. He does not
    have the ball skills to carry the burden of directing the team around
    the park and does not make enough breaks to launch attacking raids as
    such. A very solid player with a good head on his shoulders but not a
    game-breaker or match-winner. As such when halfbacks such as Trent
    Hodkinson and Cooper Cronk knock back offers to join the Dragons, they
    pick up players who are not classic ball players and try to manufacture
    halfbacks as was the case with Benji Marshall and for this season Josh
    McCrone. I even have doubts about whether Ben Hunt in 2018 has the
    skills and confidence to direct the Dragons around the park and they may
    have made a mistake putting all their eggs into that basket for 2018.
    3. The teams limitations in personnel and a great deal of the blame
    for that rests with the front office by the way, means that when the
    structured game plan provided by McGregor falls over, the team does not
    have enough individual brilliance to change the perspective of the game
    or the smarts to react taking a new direction on the field. Hence the
    importance of a top class number seven or six that can make decisions on
    the spur of the moment in a reliable and trustworthy fashion. When
    behind in particular, their confidence seems to drop which is something
    that can only be rectified by introducing a top-class coach or creating
    ‘winning’ culture. At this point in this teams development, it has
    neither.