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2017 was really the one that got away from the Red V. They started the season breathing fire and looked ready to embarrass those of us who said they’d miss finals. Their form would stutter but ultimately a win over the Bali-bound Bulldogs would have seen them qualify for the finals.

Unfortunately, they could not get the job done despite all the motivation in the world and instead had to be content in playing an unwilling part in the Cowboys fairytale run to the Grand Final. They also lost star fullback turn centre Josh Dugan to bitter rivals the Sharks.

Despite the horror end of the season, it was far from all bad for the Dragons. Cameron McInness was arguably the bargain buy of the season and is a genuine chance at an Origin call-up in 2018. Paul Vaughan was, for mine, THE buy of the season and should have three Origins to his name already.

The Dragons probably underachieved in 2017 but only due to their overachieving start to the season. It was a strange one, but one thing is for sure, they’ll be looking to start the same way but avoid the fall away that has plagued their recent seasons.

One HUGE positive last season was the Dragons suddenly found alternative ways to the try-line other than barge over plays. Their 2016 season was dire, they were almost unwatchable. They were a far more expansive side in 2017 and benefited greatly as a result.

Recruitment Grading: C

In terms of ins the Dragons have recruited brilliantly, adding a workhorse front rower in James Graham as well as international utility Ben Hunt. In terms of outs, the Dragons have leaked stars galore. Josh Dugan has moved to the Sharks, Taane Milne looks like one that got away, Russell Packer had a monster 2017 was walked to the Tigers, while the ever-reliable Joel Thompson has moved to Manly. Overall I think they’ll do alright out of the moves as they now have an all-star halves combination to build around. Ben Hunt is a massive in and despite playing the end of the season at the Broncos in the number nine, will help lift Gareth Widdop’s game even higher from the number six.

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Star Player: Gareth Widdop

The English number six-turn fullback-turn number six was an absolute attacking wizard in 2017. He scored 10 tries, laid off 18 more and made 11 line breaks in his 20 NRL appearances. In the 2017 pre-season the talk was he would return to England, but after an incredible start to the year, he was able to command a big-money contract from the Dragons who had to fend off interest from other NRL sides. His kicking game was impressive, his running game out of this world. He sparked an incredible attacking turn-around at the Dragons that I did not think possible. His goal kicking abilities should also not be understated.

Strength: All-start halves combination

In Widdop and Hunt, the Dragons have an international and supremely talented halves combination. In front of them is one of the better packs in the game with names like Graham, Vaughan, Frizell and de Belin. Working off Cameron McInnes, there are absolutely no excuses for the Widdop/Hunt combo to flourish. Hunt is a wonderful player who cops unwarranted grief for one mistake in the 2015 decider. He was a brilliant backup option to Smith in the World Cup and can now cover both the halves or number nine if needed. Widdop is an attacking machine and has sparkled in an otherwise, at times, dire attacking set up.

Weakness: Lack of flair out wide

For all the jokes about his injury record, the Dragons are going to miss Josh Dugan. His ability to break tackles, make big metres and play the ball quickly sets up a lot of attacking space for his halves and fellow backs. As solid as the likes of McDonald and Aitken are, and despite Nightingale’s incredible record, I doubt any of those three will have too many opposition players shaking in their boots. Matt Dufty looks a genuine star in the making but he only has seven NRL games to his name and needs time to find his feet at this level. Tim Lafai looks the most likely after a solid 2017. He has a freakish ability and should see plenty of ball from Widdop and Hunt. He’s one to watch.

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Prediction: 7th

Dragons fans may have had plenty of unflattering words to describe the end of their 2017 season, but in 2018 the side should right that wrong by playing finals footy. As mentioned they have lost some stars but have recruited very well. Hunt is a massive inclusion and the importance of Graham’s work rate should not be undersold.

In Vaughan, they have one of the most destructive middle forwards, while Frizell remains one of the game’s best wide-running second rowers. Throw in de Belin and Sims, as well as the aforementioned Graham and that is one almighty forward pack.

If one of the Dragons backs, most likely Lafai, can find the try-line regularly in the early season, there really doesn’t look to be any reason why the Dragons shouldn’t make the finals.

In Hunt, Widdop and McInnes the Dragons look set for a big season. Dufty will have to hit the ground running but based on his 2017 efforts, he looks ready for a big future in the number one jersey.

The Dragons main problem in past seasons has been scoring points. With the inclusion of Hunt as well as the far improved 2017 efforts, I can’t see a reason why the Dragons can’t worry the more fancied sides and ultimately finish in the top eight.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I’m definitely concerned about the outside backs also. We must have close to the best pack in the comp and if they can lay the platform then I’m sure between Widdop, Hunt and Dufty we will lay on plenty of points.
    If Lafai & Aitken don’t work out then I’d expect the likes of Lomax & even Herbert to come in and provide some pace and flair out wide.
    Big expectations from Dragons fans this season especially now that we have a good number 7.
    Bring on the Footy
    Cheers

  2. Get rid of the stupid ads.
    if i wanted to see ads id watch tv.
    Missing finals last year and 2015 losing semis .
    Its about time .
    Hopefully we stay injury free.when gareth got injured last year was a tough road after that.
    Our outside backs look a bit weak.
    But bring on the season and hope its worth waiting for.

  3. Like most teams, the Dragons will start 2018 with a vulnerability somewhere in the squad. This year it is the backline: an inexperienced fullback in Matt Dufty, Euan Aitken needs to get his injury issues sorted out — he missed too much game time last year for a young player. McDonald, well, fingers crossed that he scores more tries than he lets in through his weak defence. Nightingale is still effective winger and Lafai should be strong again. A shame we let Taane Milne go.
    The 2018 season will be hanging on the combination of Widdop and Hunt in the halves – at last we have a genuine No. 7, so hopefully they will both stay fit and ‘click’.
    The forwards look strong especially if Frizell can stay fit all year (no chronic back problem) and James Graham works out OK. As always with the Dragons we have some young guys coming through in Sele, Host, Leilua and Lawrie who will be given a good go in the NRL this season.
    For mine the biggest factor in the Dragons’ poor finish to 2017 was the coach McGregor’s inability to motivate the team once things started looked shaky. Their closing performances against the Knights, Rabbitohs and Bulldogs were woeful, and they are just three of the teams that look stronger in 2018.
    Hopefully McGregor has learnt something there and Dan’s 7th spot prediction won’t seem as optimistic as it looks at the moment.

      • Saints are certainties for a top eight spot, especially with Dugan gone. He would go down with injury every game and leave a gap in the defence line so he could get his head on TV for a stint longer. Hunt and Graham are huge signings.

  4. Alas for the dragons, nearly all teams other than Warriors (most likely) will improve, some by alot. This will be a fierce competition. With Raiders, Titans, Souths, Tigers, Bulldogs and Knights to be a lot more competitive this year, making the eight will be a challenge. I suspect Manly will miss out, and Cronulla will drop a bit, but at least 6 of last years top eight will be the same, leaving 2 spots for 9 teams.

    I suspect dragons will play better than last year but still miss out and possibly finish no better than 12th. The backs are the real problem, we have excellent forward line-up. Last year Florence and Nene were deplorable in defense leaking huge number of tries. We don’t have great pace and no real star and linebreaker. Nene also did not score many tries. If you can’t defend you better make up for it by being able to score a ton of tries. Also Lafai’s form dropped a lot after he resigned, throwing a ton of stupid passes. The second half of 2017 was actually pathetic from dragons, winning about 4 from their last 12.

    Moronic decision to let Taane Milne go.

    Good news, Doust is finally quitting, bad news not until end of season.

  5. Dragons have some great buys, Hunt I think will have a great year. Still think they lack some backs but its still a solid side. Good enough for finals, could be a top 4 smokey.

    Best player: Hunt
    Best buy: Hunt
    Finish: 8th

  6. Us finishing 8th is about right. Last year it was like so many horses I have backed, we died in the ar*e with 1/2 a furlong to go.
    I’m not fussed with losing Milne. If Lomax lives up to the hype, he’ll be more than a good replacement. Who knows, he might even throw more passes than Aitkin, 3 for the year and he’s won.
    I keep hearing rumours about us signing a pommie forward, the one who went pretty well in the World Cup (can’t remember his name). Anyone else heard anything?

      • And I strongly suspect Parra is in that race too.

        It’s probably very old news / info now, but the problem was the cost of getting him released, as I think he’s still got 2 or 3 years on his contract.

  7. Agree there appears to be little speed in the backline – Nightingale always has a go, but getting on a bit. Thompson and Dugan are big losses. Agree around the 7 or 8 spot.

  8. I predict top 4 and a real chance to take it out. We have the best forward pack and the best halves pairinf in the comp. Frizzel and debelin give us a very strong second row. While our backs are not world class they finished well and scored a lot of points last year. We have great juniors with speed and skill to burn. I am very confident of a great year.

    • Big call saying we have best combo in the halves, don’t get me wrong it could be deadly, but we also have the likes of:

      Maloney and Cleary
      Thurston and Morgan
      Cronk and Cleary
      Norman and Moses

      I rate Norman very highly, higher than Hunt, and Moses has been transformed at Parra, who are my dark horse for the premiership.

      If Widdop and Hunt gel and stay injury free they will be brilliant, I just hope our backs can give us some better attack and defense and capitalise on what Hunt and Widdop create.

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