The St George Illawarra Dragons are a side that boasts internationals and Origin players yet found themselves struggling to keep in contact with the top eight all season long.
2019 Club Record
Competition Points: 18
2019 Player Achievements
Player of the Year: Yet to be named
Most Tries: 11- Mikaele Ravalawa
Most Points: 64- Gareth Widdop
The Dragons limped into the 2018 finals but surged again to be seconds away from a preliminary final. Many expected them to continue on that form into 2019 – especially with the addition of Corey Norman – instead the Dragons played the 2019 season much in the same way they finished the 2018 season. The Dragons were predicted to finish inside the top four and after their slow start many still believed they would make the 8. Big losses to Canberra and Penrith all but confirmed the end of the season as they drifted to second last on the ladder. The combinations that many believed would flourish by seasons end, failed to create any lasting impact on the competition and their defensive deficiencies were not only picked apart but appear not to have been addressed from previous seasons.
The Dragons build their performance on the back of big effort plays. It can look good when it all comes together and they out enthuse their opponents but looks rather pedestrian when playing on the back foot. The Dragons greatest strength was their resilience in sticking in matches and attempting to sneak away with a close victory, as they almost did against Souths, Eels, and Sharks to name a few. But outside of this it is difficult to pinpoint each week what the Dragons are attempting to do in order to break down their opposition and their copybook style appears restrictive of the naturally gifted players they have at their disposal. The Dragons line speed was impressive at times but the team proved last year that basing performances around effort is difficult to sustain throughout the entire year.
From early in the season the Dragons were plagued with the court case against Jack De Belin. Before the season started, the NRL brought in their no-fault policy, effectively ending De Belin’s 2019 season. Rather than copping their medicine, the Dragons chose to appeal the ruling in the hope of De Belin returning to the field. It took a while for Paul McGregor to admit the impact the De Belin saga had on the team but having the lock train each week like he was about to play would certainly have been a distracting element for the Dragons. An element that gave the players a chance to lay blame. De Belin provided much of the Dragons aggression in defence and was focal in keeping the team straight when in attack. Add to that the loss of skipper Gareth Widdop in round 3 and the Dragons played most of the season without two of their more inspirational players. The injury to Widdop put to end the experiment of him playing fullback and Dufty coming off the bench but was seen by many as a critical moment in the Dragons season.
With their chances of reaching the finals dashed early on it gave McGregor the opportunity to field some of the younger players that have been demanding the opportunity. Blake Lawrie continued his progression towards a regular first grader with opportunities to start matches. While Luciano Leilua is developing into a skilful forward. Joshua Kerr, Jason Saab, Jackson Ford, and Tristan Sailor were all given their debuts this season. They each showed glimpses of their powers and will look to build upon it in the tough off season that the team is to face. While there has yet to be any signings the Dragons have brought in Phil Gould to run a review over all aspects of the department. His findings will be instrumental in deciding how and where the Dragons need to improve after the failure that was 2019.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
The hooker played most of the season as a co-captain and he might just replace Gareth Widdop as captain next season after his 2019 performance. He was one of the only constants in attack and made plenty of metres out of dummy half when he noticed an opportunity. His 50-metre try against the Broncos a fine example of what he can do when given the opportunity to explode. He worked well with his forwards around the ruck and occasionally set them up with some nice soft hands and deception close to the line. His efforts in defence were where he was the brightest. Cameron is first off the line every play and tops the tackle count nearly every week. His capacity to get tougher as the match got tougher was what made him stand out from the rest and his want to fight for everything lead to some season highlights. The Dragons were ambling towards another heavy defeat against South Sydney until McInnes intervened when he got to the ball first after he charged down a field goal attempt. The Dragons surged on the back of his effort and should have won the match. In the match against Cronulla – as well as others – he came up with a try saving tackle, stopping Bronson Xerri when he appeared all money to score. These moments came when the Dragons had nothing to play for but pride. Cameron McInnes’ season ended with a broken leg in round 24, an end certainly not deserved from a player who can hold his head high after a disastrous season.
2020 GAINS AND LOSSES
Jeremy Lattimore (retired), Steven Marsters (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Reece Robson (North Queensland Cowboys), Gareth Widdop (Warrington Wolves)