The St George Illawarra Dragons have a major problem, but the answer is staring coach Anthony Griffin right in the face.

That problem?

The way they are using the 80 minutes of each week at dummy half.

The hooking role always looked as if it was going to be a problem for the Red V this season. Andrew McCullough filled the role solidly last year without great support, but it became clear as the year went along that the NRL had passed him by.

He ultimately elected to hang up the boots at season's end, and the Dragons went out and signed Jacob Liddle out of the final year of his deal at the Wests Tigers.

It was a move that worked for both clubs - the Dragons had no first-choice dummy half and would have been relying on Moses Mbye, while the Tigers had three in their top 30 following the acquisition of Apisai Koroisau, with former Queensland junior representative star Jake Simpkin also still at the club.

So, Liddle arrived at the Red V, obviously keen to cement himself as a first-choice, big-minutes hooker that he had so often shown he had the ability to be during his time at the Tigers, only for injuries to continually cruel his development and progression.

That was a risk the Dragons were willing - and needed - to take as Anthony Griffin began what was always going to be a season fighting for his future.

NRL Rd 1 - Dragons v Sharks
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Dragons head coach Anthony Griffin speaks to the media during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on March 14, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Incredibly though, eight rounds into the season, Liddle has only spent 37 more minutes on the field than he has off it, and the statistical difference of when he plays, against when he is sitting on the bench, is alarming to say the least for the Dragons.

In the 297 minutes and 15 seconds that Liddle has played this season, the Dragons hold a slender 90 points to 85 lead on overall for and against.

Consider though that they have only won two games in total, and the fact they have a positive result with Liddle on the field is something of a miracle.

Dragons with Jacob Liddle on field in 2023

Round Time Points for Points against
1 54:23 30 6
2 46:37 14 18
3 40:19 0 26
4 49:24 16 8
5 33:57 6 12
6 39:42 10 14
7 32:57 14 1
Total 4:57:15 90 85

Those numbers ultimately mean the Dragons score 0.30 points per minute and concede 0.29 points per minute with Liddle on the field, however, taking into account that he played a majority of the dumpster fire minutes against the Sharks (Round 3) as the Dragons fell apart, the numbers do read far better without the outlier.

In fact, taking away those 26 points conceded and 40 minutes, the Dragons have only conceded 0.23 points per minute with Liddle on the field and scored at 0.35 per minute, while the overall scoreline would read 90 to 59 with the ex-Tiger on the park.

Those averages would put the Dragons right in the mix with the best attacks and defences in the competition if you were purely looking at points per minute.

To put those per minute numbers in context, the competition's number one defence at the Penrith Panthers concede 0.17 points per minute this season, while the Broncos are scoring at 0.35 points per minute - exactly the same as the Dragons with Liddle, if you take the Sharks game out. Even without the Sharks game, the numbers are close enough to be competitive.

Compare that to all the time that Liddle has spent off the park this season though, and the numbers look even worse.

Dragons with Jacob Liddle off-field in 2023

Round Time Points for Points against
2 23:37 2 12
3 33:23 4 22
4 39:41 8 14
5 30:36 22 4
6 46:03 12 8
7 40:18 4 6
8 47:03 12 26
Total 4:20:41 64 92

As it stands, the Dragons trail 64 points to 92 with Liddle off the park, but 22 of those points scored came in a game against the Dolphins.

Take out that game and the Dragons have only scored 42 points across 230 minutes with Liddle off the field this season.

That is a disaster in anyone's book at an average of just 0.18 points per minute. Ultimately, even the 0.25 points per minute the Dragons score without Liddle on the park and the Dolphins game included is just not good enough, and speaks volumes of why Anthony Griffin must get the hooker playing more minutes.

What's maybe even more concerning for the Dragons is that Griffin's comments earlier this season surrounded wanting to get Liddle ready to be an 80-minute hooker or close to it.

That hasn't materialised though, and instead, his minutes have actively decreased since the opening rounds of the season. In fact, he hasn't played as many minutes as he did in the Dragons' Round 2 season opener since, and the Round 8 game against the Roosters was a new low.

It all came to a head on Anzac Day, when coach Anthony Griffin kept Liddle on the bench for an almost unbelievable 47 minutes.

Sure, he came on against a fatiguing Roosters defence, but the simple fact is the tri-colours dominated right up until Liddle entered the game.

There was no coincidence that the Dragons, with speed out of dummy half, a presence in the defensive line and a specialist hooker in the position, suddenly shell-shocked the Roosters to score three tries in eight minutes and get a seemingly out of their reach game all squared up at 26 a piece.

The Dragons couldn't go on with the win, but in those eight minutes, Liddle proved once and for all he must be playing more minutes, and likely, starting games instead of Moses Mbye.

NRL Rd 8 - Dragons v Wests Tigers
WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - MAY 01: Moses Mbye of the Dragons runs the ball during the round eight NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium on May 01, 2022 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

His influence was acknowledged by Griffin during the post-game press conference.

"It sort of goes how you feel the game is going with that hooker change. In the first half, I thought Moses [Mbye] was doing a good job defensively and we didn't have a great deal of ball," Griffin said.

"So Jacob early in the second half, we put him on there. He has speed and got us over the advantage line."

The problem, of course, is that Moses Mbye wasn't doing a good job at anything as the Dragons would go into halftime 20 points to 12 down before conceding another try to Joseph Manu shortly afterwards. The service he provided out of dummy half was slow and left the Dragons on the back foot, and the utility ended up with six missed tackles.

You could argue of course that Liddle playing the middle and end of the game is going to suit his style more, but he has also started games this year, so the numbers presented are a fair spread.

The bottom line is that he is the Dragons' best hooker, and anything less than 60 minutes per game isn't enough.

Mbye has a role to play in this Dragons team - in the 14 jersey coming off the bench with limited minutes at dummy half and serving as a back-up in the backline - but that's it.

He isn't a starting hooker in this modern age, and the sooner the Dragons figure that out, the better, with Liddle simply needing to play more minutes.


  1. If I were Jakob Liddle, I would have my agent ringing the phone off the wall at Newcastle. The Knights are struggling with Brayley out, and need a professional Number 9.

    If Mr Griffin isn’t interested in Liddle then maybe Newcastle could pick him up on a mid-season release.

  2. Sorry OldHarry, dragons have just extended Liddle’s contract for a further two years. We aren’t that stupid to now say, sure Jacob feel free to go to another club.

    Griffin is gone and Liddle will be the #1 hooker at the club. Mbye’s contract is up end of the year and doubt he’ll be resigned.

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