Record: 12 wins, 12 losses
Ladder Position: 9th
Player of the Year: Gareth Widdop
After finishing 2016 in 11th spot and being outclassed in the preseason Charity Shield match against the Rabbitohs, hopes for a successful year from the Dragons were very low. However, the team hit the ground running with an amazing 42-10 win over Penrith and found themselves in the top eight for a majority of the year.
Unfortunately the team could not deliver at the business end of the season losing games against struggling teams in Souths and Newcastle.To add insult to injury, a finals spot seemed all but sewn up heading into their final match against the Bulldogs, a team locked towards the bottom of the table. Needing only a win, the Dragons struggled with the sense of occasion and saw their season end with a 26-20 loss.
Despite not qualifying for the finals, there were some positive signs for the team which should provide supporters with a sense of optimism moving forward.
Widdop revival leads attacking masterclass
Following Benji Marshall’s departure from the side, Gareth Widdop was given the responsibility of chief play maker this season. He was brilliant in this position ranking second in the competition for points scored and third in try assists. The side played with an attacking flair that was rarely seen in 2016 highlighted by their 52-22 win over Manly, a side that would later qualify for the finals.
Coming into the season, Widdop’s future with the club was an uncertain one being off contract and with Ben Hunt being signed on a one million plus deal for 2018. Rather than let this prove a distraction, Widdop let his play on the field do the talking putting on an attacking masterclass and proving to the club that he is an essential player for the side moving forward.
Recruitment drive has immediate impact
At the end of the 2016 season, the Dragons were a side in rebuilding mode and question marks surrounded their playing roster after allowing Mitch Rein to leave despite noone in line to replace him. The clubs key recruits for this season were Paul Vaughan and Cameron McInness, both solid players but not expecting to set the world on fire.
Throughout the season, Vaughan established himself as arguably the buy of the season providing consistent go forward for the team leading the side in run metres and going close to representative selection. Cameron McInness thrived as a consistent starting hooker topping the league in tackles made and providing valuable running metres. They also proved to be valuable leaders within the squad providing a level of consistency not seen from the Dragons in past seasons.
Dragons board decide that Mary McGregor is the right man to lead
Paul McGregor was arguably the coach under the most pressure heading into the 2017 season and with the clubs lack lustre performance in their Charity Shield game it appeared as though he was a lame duck. However, the team hit it’s straps early with impressive wins leading to McGregor receiving a renewed two year contract with club sitting third on the ladder at the time.
McGregor has shown that he is able to turn this side into a competitive football team with the team showing the ability to both blow teams off the park and to grind out tight games. He also was a man that made tough decisions as illustrated by the decision to sit out Josh Dugan in a must win game against Penrith. McGregor has proven to be the man to lead the club going forward and with more strong recruits in 2018 this side should continue to improve under his time in charge.
It would be easy to label the Dragons season a disappointment after starting the season so strongly and being consistently in the eight for most of the year. However, it is important to remember where the team has come from to truly judge their performance in 2017. The Dragons came into the year with low expectations and being a team expected to just make up the numbers. They exceeded these expectations playing an attractive brand of football and establishing themselves as a top eight threat. With two fantastic recruits to the club for 2018 in Ben Hunt and James Graham the future is bright for the joint venture club and this season may have been the first step towards a return to finals success in the years to come.
2017 GAINS AND LOSSES
GAINS: James Graham (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Ben Hunt (Brisbane Broncos)
LOSSES: Josh Dugan (Cronulla Sharks), Chris Lewis (Released), Mose Masoe (Hull Kingston Rovers), Will Matthews (Widnes Vikings), Tyrone McCarthy (Salford Red Devils), Josh McCrone (Toronto Wolfpack), Taane Milne (Wests Tigers), Shaun Nona (released), Russell Packer (Wests Tigers)