St George-Illawarra Stats
2013 Record: 7 wins from 24 premiership games (fourteenth placed)
5-year record: 66 wins from 120 premiership games (55% win record)
Arrivals: Gareth Widdop, Sam Williams, Joel Thompson, Mike Cooper, Dylan Farrell, Josh Ailaomai, Matt Groat, Peter Mata’utia, Michael Witt.
Departures: Jamie Soward, Michael Weyman, Matt Cooper, Nathan Fein, Chase Stanley, Cameron King, Matt Prior, Kayne Brennan, Jackson Hastings, Daniel Vidot, Damien Cook, Evander Cummin.
Coach: Steve Price
Fixtures to start and end 2014
First five fixtures: Tigers (H), Warriors (A), Sharks (A), Broncos (H), Rabbitohs (H)
Final five fixtures: Panthers (H), Raiders (A), Titans (H), Broncos (A), Knights (A)
St George-Illawarra will be hoping new recruit Gareth Widdop will solve part of their halves problem when he lines up for the club in 2014.
Whilst the preferred halves combination was settled with Adam Quinlan and the retiring Nathan Fein for the back-end of last season, Widdop will provide the flare and organisation needed to lift the proud club up the ladder. With the ex-Storm player in the halves and the talented Josh Dugan at fullback, the Dragons are half way to creating the ultimate Melbourne Storm combination in the 1-6-7 and 9 positions.
“We’ve got a great roster, a lot of youth and a bit of experience in the team. If we work hard during this pre-season hopefully we can go a long way in this competition in 2014.”, Widdop told DragonsTV.
“I’ve played in some big games over the last few years and hopefully I can do whatever role the coach asks of me, I’ll be doing that to best of my ability.”
The Dragons also have recruited ex-Raider Joel Thompson, and Michael Witt who’s returning from the UK Super League after leaving the ailing London Broncos club. You would expect Quinlan, Michael Witt and Sam Williams to be in line to partner Widdop.
Also making the move from Super League is twenty-five year old Mike Cooper. Cooper transfers from Warrington Wolves as a handy forward with 137 Super League appearances under his belt.
“Cooper has always been a promising player but is yet to establish himself as a genuine star of the English game”, says weloveleague UK writer Oliver Roby.
“It was a surprise to see him go to the NRL. Hopefully the Australian game is the place where he can begin to fulfil his potential”
The burning question for the Dragons is whether the fresh faces through their recruitment drive can off-set the departures of Fein and Matt Cooper through retirement, Jamie Soward, Michael Weyman and Matt Prior. These departures alone equate to 941 games of experience that’s left the club.
So what of the St George-Illawarra Dragons chances this season? This is a big year for coach Steve Price who came under increasing pressure as the Dragons slumped to fourteenth spot in 2013 with only seven premiership wins. A slow start for the club and his job will again go on the line. He will be hoping the halves combination is established quickly to avoid being too far behind in the premiership race.
There’s no doubt that there are some quality speedsters like Brett Morris out wide, but its a matter of getting the ball wide for the opportunities to become available. The two Jack’s (De Belin and Stockwell) are developing into fine forwards and Charly Runciman showed in limited NRL appearances that he’s a future star of the game. Ben Creagh again will shoulder a lot of the responsibility to inspire the team as he leads the forward pack.
Given that there’s so many changes to the squad the Dragons will struggle to make the finals, but they will show more enthusiasm this season with this side very much a work in progress.
additional information provided by Oliver Roby.