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NRL Season Preview and Review

2018 SEASON REVIEW | St. George-Illawarra Dragons

The St George-Illawarra Dragons promised big things after the first 16 rounds of competition. A late-season slide saw them quickly drop out of premiership favouritism with the punters thereafter, but a big win over the Brisbane Broncos in the first week of finals and a strong showing against South Sydney earns them a pass mark for season 2018. 

2018 Club Record

Wins: 15
Losses: 9
Competition Points: 32

2018 Player Achievements

Player of the Year: Tariq Sims
Most Tries: Matt Dufty
Most Points: Gareth Widdop

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Season Summary

The Dragons were given next to no chance of making the finals prior to the start of the 2018 premiership season. But like the English Football Team in Russia, they punched well above their weight – so much so that a few fans were beginning to get their plans in order for late September as early as round 10.

Alas, the curse of St George-Illawarra returned, as the annual slide that fans have become accustomed to over the past four seasons saw them fall from first to seventh on the premiership ladder by round 25. Losses to wooden spooners Parramatta and the lowly-ranked Bulldogs as finals approached were like daggers to the hearts of Dragons fans who were just starting to believe that the last eight years of hurt were finally turning around. So when they came back in the first weekend of finals to defeat the Brisbane Broncos 48-18, at Suncorp Stadium no less, delirium rightly ensued.

But the sight of Dragons’ wounded warrior, Gareth Widdop, clutching at his shoulder for the second time in a season of heartbreak quickly turned ecstasy into agony. The dream was over. Shut the gates. Get your holiday plans in order. What’s doing on Mad Monday?

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A solid first half against the Bunnies had fans believing once more. Could they really do this without Widdop? But like clockwork, the curse of ANZ Stadium struck again. Many blamed Hunt. I applauded him, for the 79 minutes before his last-ditch blunder were a testament to his mental fortitude. Widdop was a big loss. As big a loss as any across the entire NRL season. In his absence, Hunt controlled the game without significant error before the more experienced half got the better of him, and the entire Dragons side.

The premiership trophy isn’t coming home. But boy, what a season it was. If you’re not proud to be a Dragons fan after that rollercoaster of a year, I don’t think you ever will be.

Widdop playing with a shoulder in desperate need of surgery. De Belin spending the entire week in a moon boot but still taking the field on the weekend. Hunt fighting through a multitude of mental demons with the Rugby League public scrutinising his every move. Who else would you rather represent your club?

NothingButLeague Player of the Season

There is a saying in sport that you should judge a player not by their impact on the field, but by how much a side misses them when they are either retired or absent through injury. If this is true, then NBL’s player of the season for St George-Illawarra goes to Gareth Widdop. The Dragons were a different side without him in 2018, there can be no denying that. He is the rudder that guides the Dragons through murky waters and the baker that applies the icing to the cake. Yes, the forwards lay the platform, but without Widdop the platform is just that – a platform. No one in the NRL, with the exception of maybe Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, holds such immense importance to their side.

2019 GAINS AND LOSSES

Gains

Mikaele Ravalawa (Canberra Raiders, 2020), Korbin Sims (Brisbane Broncos, 2021), Jonus Pearson (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Jason Sabb (2022)

Losses

Leeson Ah Mau (New Zealand Warriors), Nene Macdonald (North Queensland Cowboys), Jason Nightingale (retired), Hame Sele (released), Reuben Garrick (released), Patrick Herbert (released)

Freelance journalist and Rugby League blogger.

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