SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 11: Gareth Widdop of the Dragons looks dejected during the round 14 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on June 11, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Dragons started the 2018 season breathing fire, then after a mid-season slump smashed the Broncos in round one of the finals.

How will they fare in 2019?

2019 Gains

Eddie Blacker (2019), Hayden Lomax (2019), Lachlan Maranta (2019), Steven Masters (2019), Corey Norman (Parramatta Eels, 2021), Jonus Pearson (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Mikaele Ravalawa (Canberra Raiders, 2020), Jason Saab (2022), Korbin Sims (Brisbane Broncos, 2021), Lachlan Timm (Melbourne Storm, 2019)

2019 Losses

Leeson Ah Mau (New Zealand Warriors), Reuben Garrick (Manly Sea Eagles), Patrick Herbert (released), Nene Macdonald (North Queensland Cowboys), Kurt Mann (Newcastle Knights), Jason Nightingale (retired), Hame Sele (Penrith Panthers)

2018 Recap

The Dragons were the form team of the competition for the first half of the NRL season. They won their opening six fixtures, and 12 of their opening 15 games.

Unfortunately, their form suffered in a big way throughout and after the Origin period bringing them right back to the pack.

Four members of their forward pack played Origin last season and it’s no surprise that the Dragons big men were having an early season field day, allowing Gareth Widdop to start the season in Dally M medal-winning form.

The Dragons did manage to turn their amazing start into a finals appearance but will be disappointed not to have challenged for the top four.

A massive week one win over the Broncos really raised hopes for the Red V, only for it all to come crashing down in ridiculous circumstances against the Bunnies in week two of the finals.

The Dragons can be happy with their 2018 efforts however it remains a case of what could have been.

Best Signing: Corey Norman

The rumblings of a potential Eels exit for Corey Norman grew louder late last year but I’m still surprised that he has ended up across Sydney as a Dragon.

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Norman will either slot into the halves with Ben Hunt or will play fullback, with the former looking more likely.

He is an incredible talent who really has not lived up to his undoubted potential. He and the club will hope that a Red V jersey will unlock what we should have seen two years ago.

There is nothing Norman can’t do, however, he will have to fully apply himself after two seasons in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

With Widdop looking to move to England sooner rather than later, Norman is a straight swap. He will play a huge role in 2019 for the Dragons.

Young Gun/One To Watch: Zac Lomax

19-year-old Zac Lomax is a short-priced favourite for the breakout player of the year, such is his ridiculous talent.

Having played four times already for the Dragons, the hype on Lomax is huge. He can play anywhere across the back line but will likely play on the wing in the early rounds.

A goal-kicking speedster with a massive frame, there is a lot to like here. With a full off-season in the gym as part of the full-time squad, he is likely to be an absolute monster by round one.

Most Important Player: Gareth Widdop

The Dragons will be hoping that their main man is able to commit fully after making it very public his intention is to return to England, as soon as 2020.

Widdop is likely to shift to fullback, where he played for England in the World Cup, to accommodate the arrival of Corey Norman.

The Englishman is one of the competition’s elite play-makers and should handle the shift to fullback with ease.

If he can start the season as he did last year, the Dragons will be set up for a top-four finish.

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Recruitment Grade: C

Corey Norman is the big name signing and will slot straight into the first-grade side. Korbin Sims is the other big signing and will add some size off the bench.

Outside of the two above players, the Dragons have recruited for depth.

Lachlan Maranta has plenty of NRL experience from his time at the Broncos and could be in the early setup but I can’t see them overlooking their freakish young players.

The Dragons have a side capable of anything and didn’t really need to hit the open market hard. The two players they have added will improve the squad.

Prediction: 8th

I can see the Dragons finishing anywhere from 3rd to 10th.

The amount of talent in this squad is ridiculous. They have an all representative forward pack with four Origin certainties and an England mainstay.

Widdop, Hunt and Norman are all extremely talented players who can produce absolutely anything on their day.

Their centres are weapons, their young wingers are electric. They have a hard working and very talented number nine.

That said, the Dragons are a side who can put 50 on a contender only to lose by 30 the next week to a side running last.

Norman is rocks or diamonds, Hunt is a confidence player, and their best player in Widdop is going to play out of position.

Surely there’s enough here to play finals footy. Anything less than mid-September footy is a failure for this squad.

The Dragons will be watching on nervously re JDB.

I’m confident that the Dragons will make the eight but with their three attacking players capable of game ratings of 10 or 3, it’s hard to predict the consistency needed for a top four run.

9 COMMENTS

  1. As a dragons fan the prediction is pretty spot on. Could be anything from 3rd to 10th. Rocks or diamonds from Norman and the squad almost certain. The one thing I dont agree with is the that Widdop is so pivotal. For the last two years he was great for 6-8 weeks. Got an injury and thereafter was not influential much at all. He would need to be consistently good all year to be so apparently important, which I dont think he has ever been. One of the best on his day, but……

  2. While I believe we have a Grand Final winning team, I don’t believe that we can win a Grand Final with McGregor as coach. While this squad does have a lot of potential, there are also some interesting questions.

    First of all, McGregor should of never been coach as he was the attacking coach during the years of 2012-2014 where we couldn’t score a try. Just another example of “jobs for the boys” and the Illawarra side given benefits. Not to mention, he should of been sacked already but due to our management accepting mediocrity, he is still the coach. He makes the same mistakes (Mid Season Slide), doesn’t fix glaring issues, doesn’t use his interchange bench, selects players he is comfortable with rather then form and never bloods juniors. Not to mention, he has never been able to get us to consistently perform on the big stage. While we do need a stronger more win driven management, the biggest piece between us and a Grand Final is a coach as we have the squad to win it.

    If I was selecting, I’d select this team…

    1. Gareth Widdop
    2. Mikaele Ravalawa
    3. Zac Lomax
    4. Tim Lafai
    5. Jonus Pearson
    6. Corey Norman
    7. Ben Hunt
    8. James Graham
    9. Cameron McInnes
    10. Paul Vaughan
    11. Tyson Frizell
    12. Tariq Sims
    13. Jack De Belin

    14. Korbin Sims
    15. Blake Lawrie
    16. Luciano Leilua
    17. Reece Robson

    My biggest concerns with this team are the consistency, lack of speed, creativity and game management from our halves. While at times last year we had some of the most entertaining attack with our length of the field tries, we were unable to set us a simple backline movement to score. I feel this year adding a ball playing fullback in Widdop sweeping out the back alongside the deft passing and short kicking game of Corey Norman, will make our attack one of our greatest strengths Not to mention, both are solid runners of the ball as well. I feel that will also take the pressure of Hunt to be a playmaker, instead allowing him to inject himself with his strong running game as well as manage the game through his long range kicking which is quite underrated. Hunt was at his best steering the Broncos to a Grand Final appearance in 2015 when Milford was doing the playmaking, and him the game managing. I also feel with the additions of Pearson and Ravalawa in the backline there will be some much needed speed that we haven’t had since Morris, and with two ballplaying centres in Lomax and Lafai inside them I think this backline will flourish with tries both long range and off set plays. We finally have some indvidual brilliance which will improve with 3 playmaking options. Personally, I don’t rate Aitken or Dufty either.

    As long as De Belin is not guilty (A Big If), I believe this is the best forward back in the league. A leader in graham, a top 3 prop in Vaughan, an all representative back row with De Belin being a ruthless defender as well as solid ball player. Frizell who runs great lines as well as Sims who brings that mongrel in defence. Of the bench we have a young tough prop in Lawrie, the other sims boy who brings size and mongrel of the bench. Then we have Leilua who really came into his own last year with his ballplaying hopefully making him an x factor. Lastly, I feel we must blood Robson before he is poached from us as from what I’ve heard he’s one of the best juniors coming through. While I really like McInnes due to his work ethic, crisp passing, tackling and ability to direct the forwards around the ruck, I feel he could be much more productive with a little break. Robson coming on would also bring us a bit more creativeness and would thrive around tired ruck forwards.

    I really think this is a grand final team with the wrong coach. Despite the questions facing this squad, I think the potential outweighs the possible problems. I think we have the leadership, defence, mongrel, playmaking, individual brilliance and game management needed to win. We just need the consistency which will be our main priority. We also have a very bright future with juniors come through such as Field, Saab, Marsters, Sailor, Lovodua, Blaker on top of Robson, Lomax and Leilua.

    Up The Saints!

    • I think St.George certainly has the forwards to win the competition.
      The spine is another thing altogether. Surely there has to be a huge question mark about Corey Norman at 5/8th. He was terrible last year & Parramstta couldn’t get rid of him quick enough. How will he combine with Hunt at halfback? Without a good organiser like Widdop , Hunt is like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
      So the question is, which Norman will St.George be getting, if he’s in the halves this year? The good player for about one season at Parramatta, or the very ordinary one that he’s been for the rest of his playing career?
      Unless there’s another great 5/8th coming up through the grades, Widdop is still the most reliable organiser at the club.

  3. Nice read… put Luce in at lock forward if Jack doesn’t play. Jammer to the bench and blocker to start.. hes the future.
    The rest looks fine. Would have thought Pereira would retain wing tho

  4. The Dragons need to stand down JDB now for his own mental health or else the whole season is going to be about him. Every piece of media about the dragons will become about JDB and every time he goes anywhere near the ball he is going to be massively booed or worse. I can’t see this having anything but a negative impact on JDB and the playing group. I feel that should he be found innocent he could come straight back into the side and provide an instant boost to stop the mid season fade outs and propel the dragons into the top 4.

      • I actually don’t think JDB should be stood down, he should retract himself from the playing group and look after his personal (mess) life first. If it costs him his contract for the year then so be it. His stupidity and lack of care has astounded me.
        In terms of coming back his mental state will be the biggest issue.

  5. I agree with Dragonforlife, St.George cannot win a Grand Final with McGregor as coach….full stop. McGregor should have been shown the door after the 2016 season and Jason Demitriou should have coached the Dragons from the beginning of 2017. Who can forget the humiliating and demoralising defeats last year by wooden spooners Parramatta 40-4 then 2 weeks later being toatally embarrassed by Canterbury 38-0.

  6. Some interesting comments, and everyone is entitled to an opinion so I’m going to give mine. Some people are quick to want to discard Euan Aitken & Tim Lafai, but I believe Mary will stick with them to start the season at least. I also believe the wingers will be Zac Lomax & Jordan Pereira, and the new recruits will have to earn their positions in first grade.

    As for Gareth Widdop playing fullback….has this come from Mary or is it media driven speculation? I can’t see the point in moving the captain and best organising player in the team to fullback. He is more effective at 5/8 imo, and Corey Norman will have to wait his turn. Maybe he & Widdop can alternate sometimes, but I don’t believe Norman is a better 5/8 than Widdop. If our regular lock forward can’t play I would have Blake Lawrie or Korbin Sims as his replacement.

    I’m not one for making predictions, but I do expect the Dragons to finish higher up the table than last season. They have the talent to do it, but do they have the desire & mental toughness? We shall see.

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