After a return to the finals in 2018, the St George-Illawarra Dragons will be hoping for no less this time around, as we delve into their prospects for 2019.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Korbin Sims (Broncos), Jonus Pearson (Broncos), Mikaele Ravalawa (Raiders), Lachlan Timm (Storm), Lachlan Maranta (QLD Reds- Rugby), Corey Norman (Eels)
Leeson Ah Mau (Warriors), Jason Nightingale (retired), Nene Macdonald (Cowboys), Reuben Garrick (Sea Eagles), Hame Sele (Panthers), Kurt Mann (Knights)
Cowboys (A), Rabbitohs (H), Broncos (A), Knights (A), Bulldogs (H)
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Dragons will be hoping their 2019 season gets off to as good a start as 2018, which saw them leading the competition near the halfway mark. But what most fans – and pundits alike – will be attuned to is what they have implemented in the off season to halt their mid-year form fade. If they cannot build upon their final appearances from last season, then 2019 could be the last for Paul McGregor and his coaching staff.
The two areas that need improvement to prevent the slide: finding an extra dimension to their attack and fixing their at-times disorganised edge defence. The Dragons have added a few recruits to their backline; mixed in with the emerging talent unearthed towards the end of last season, they will be hoping that they can move on from the one-dimensional attacking structure that other sides have begun to figure out. The defence will come down to attitude and perhaps shuffling the decks around. Their representative forwards will continue to provide the platform needed to be present in big games, but it’s about finding the balance between hardened veterans and exciting rookies that will define their premiership chances this season.
It’s been a big off season for club captain Gareth Widdop. He announced early on that 2019 will be his last in the NRL before returning home to the English Super League. There has been the extra intrigue into which position he will likely be playing. While fullback appears to be that position, Dragons fans will be happy to see their skipper playing regardless. His return from injury at the back end of the year was vital in their improved form in the finals. Widdop’s strong influence on the left edge and his combination with Ben Hunt will be an important indication of the Dragons’ chances this season. There will be high expectations from fans and the man himself in doing what the Dragons brought him from Melbourne for: win a premiership.
There will be big hopes that Corey Norman can bring an extra dimension to the Dragons’ attack. With Ben Hunt controlling the middle and Widdop sniffing for opportunities out wide, this should allow Norman the opportunity to play what’s in front of him. The first aspect Norman needs to get right is his defence. Norman will likely take Widdop’s spot in the defensive line and the Dragons defence out wide has been circumspect at best. The other addition to their squad is Korbin Sims. If Korbin is named to come off the bench then he needs to provide the same impact that was offered by Leeson Ah Mau. But there will be times when he will be needed to start and step up into a forward leader role. It will be his job to ensure the intensity of matches do not drop off when one of the starting forwards is subbed or rested.
St George-Illawarra begin their season with two trips to the Sunshine State within the first three rounds. The Dragons have never fared well in Queensland but getting this trip done early – especially when early-season form comes into account – could end up be a blessing later in the season. Their games are played over a mix of days, with only one five-day turnaround between their clash against the Sea Eagles and the ANZAC Day blockbuster with the Sydney Roosters. The Dragons’ bye comes in round 12, after playing five of last season’s top eight teams. After that they play their remaining games in Sydney – except for their final game against the Gold Coast Titans. The Dragons only play three top eight teams twice.
Top Tryscorer – Jordan Pereira
Top Pointscorer – Gareth Widdop
Club Player of the Year – Paul Vaughan