Daniel Nichols – St George/Illawarra Season Review

Daniel Nichols looks back at the 2013 NRL season for all 16 clubs. Today he looks backs at the St George/Illawarra Dragons season.

Finished: 14th

Predicted: 14th

Fan Prediction: 6th

What Went Wrong: What a difference 2 years can make. Under Wayne Bennett the Dragons won their first ever premiership as a joint venture and came within a Darren Lockyer field goal of advancing to attempt to defend their title. Since the super coach’s departure from the club, the Dragons have been on a steady decline. Fans will be hoping 2013 is their rock bottom after recording just 7 wins this season, only 3 of which were at home. This surely poses the question whether the Dragons shared home grounds is a disadvantage for the club.

Premiership winning 5/8th Jamie Soward wore the brunt the fans frustration as the side struggled to put wins together, and found himself being released to play in England just weeks after signing a big money deal with the Panthers. Although not in the form that saw him play for NSW, Soward’s kicking game and ability to create was sorely missed.

Specialist number 9 Nathan Fien was moved to halfback after the retirement of club legend Ben Hornby, and although he provided 16 try assists this season, never really adjusted to the playmaking duties. Dragons fans were left frustrated as coach Steve Price ignored their calls to play youngster Josh Drinkwater with any regularity.

The Dragons lost far too many games they probably should have won, especially to fierce local rivals the Sharks. The Dragons dominated a woeful Cronulla side but still found a way to lose, rather than the Sharks finding a way to win. Although the lack of creativity in the halves was a huge factor, the Dragons once feared defence seems to be a thing of the past. Dragons fans took to social media to blast the club’s decision to re-sign coach Steve Price for 2014 after failing in their very public chase to sign Storm coach Craig Bellamy.

What Went Right: Although the club suffered through their second season of missing the 8, they were able to recruit well for 2014. It is no secret that the halves combination simply did not work this season, promoting the Dragons to sign Melbourne star Gareth Widdop and Canberra’s Sam Williams. Both players have plenty of NRL experience, and in Widdop’s case big game experience, and both arguably are still to play their best footy.

They have also added Raider’s backrower Joel Thompson and Dylan Farrell from the Bunnies, but it was the mid-season signing of Josh Dugan that will likely lead to future success. Dugan, sacked by a club he clearly did not want to play for, seemed to play with a new found enjoyment of the game in the Red V and his performances definitely rewarded the club for taking a punt on him after his long list of off field indiscretions.

Despite the fan’s initial reaction to the news of the Price re-signing, the announcement will surely add some much needed stability to the club. After missing out on Bellamy, a chase that became very public, they moved to tie Price to the club. Price, who looked gone for all money at times during the season may now be able to coach the side without the imposing figure of Bellamy casting a big shadow. It could not have been easy to focus seeing Bellamy’s name linked with the club in every news break.

Verdict: With the retirement of Matt Cooper and Nathan Fien, as well as the changing of clubs for Mick Weyman, Price can now build a side in his image instead of that of Wayne Bennett. He won’t be given for ever by his employers with fans and sponsors becoming more concerned about the poor form of the side. 2013 was not a good year for the Dragons or their fans. Hopefully for their sake Josh Dugan stays firmly on his path to redemption and the new looks halves fire next season.

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