PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 19: Dragons players look dejected after a Panthers try during the round 18 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Panthers Stadium on July 19, 2019 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Dragons 2019:
A season long fade?

Good news Dragons fans! There will be no heart breaking late season fade this year that robs the Red V of a finals spot. Unfortunately the reality is far more sombre for St. George – Illawarra as 2019 has instead been a season long fade. While the last couple of seasons have seen precipitous form drops as the Dragons have faded down the stretch, it appears season 2019 never really got off the ground for the Red V. This column has previously looked at the interchange usage as a key driver of the St. George fades and it is time now to check in again on how this issue has played out in 2019 and see what other factors have led the Dragons astray from finals football.

Ladder Position after 18 games

We begin our Dragons deep dive by checking in on their ladder position and form this year in comparison to the previous four seasons.

YearLadder PositionGames PlayedPointsWinsLossesFor & AgainstForm
Last 5
201914th1814612-1041 – 4
20182nd1828135+1252 – 3
20178th1824108+823 – 2
201611th1820810-1582 – 3
201510th1820810-120 – 5


The data shows the Dragons are in their worst position after 18 games played since 2014. The Red V have exactly half the amount of competition points they had at the same point last season. This season has also been their worst by six points. St. George have their worst For & Against (-104) since their abysmal 2016 effort (-158). The negative 104 the Dragons have this year is a monumental 229 point swing from the same point last season. Their form is also troubling with just one win from their last 5 starts. But what has caused this enormous swing from last season? 

                      A Questionable Approach

A key difference this season was the decision to acquire Corey Norman before the season. This additional ball player left the Dragons with a conundrum to solve with how to carry, and deploy, an impact bench player which was slated to be speedster Matt Dufty. The long term injury to Gareth Widdop certainly didn’t help create any continuity, but in an area where many of the top contenders are carrying four bench forwards, the Dragons have persisted for much of the season, as they did in 2018 with Kurt Mann, with a bench utility coming on late in games an impact player off the bench.  Dufty, Lomax, Aitken, Field and Ravalawa have each been saddled with the bench utility role this season, but has this position been effective for the Dragons at all?


PlayerBench startsAverage MinutesTotal TriesTotal Try
Average Run MetresTotal Line
Line Break AssistsTotal Tackle BreaksTotal Errors

Typically we wouldn’t include a table with this many zeroes, but here it highlights the lack of impact the role has had for the Dragons. The obvious comparison for this style of Bench is the Melbourne Storms use of up and coming game breaking dynamo Ryan Papenhuyzen. The Storm have actually deployed the impact bench position (15 times) even more than the Dragons have this year (12). Here is how the Storm players have fared in the role.

PlayerBench startsAverage MinutesTotal TriesTotal Try
Average Run MetresTotal Line
Line Break AssistsTotal Tackle BreaksTotal Errors

Far greater production is clearly evident for the Storms impact bench players. Below is a direct comparison of the two teams.

PlayerBench StartsAverage MinutesTotal TriesTotal Try
Average Run MetresTotal Line
Line Break AssistsTotal Tackle BreaksTotal Errors

As is clearly evident here, the Storm have enjoyed far greater production from their bench utility than the Dragons. The Storm wins in every category we have measured and show the impact the role can have when used well and with the right cattle, an area the Dragons at this point need to review as the production just is not there in 2019.


Bench Forwards

Minutes played by the Forwards in 2018

While the loss of star Origin lock Jack DeBelin has unequivocally had a significant impact on the Dragons forward pack this season, the use of their Bench forwards has been area we have previously identified as being underutilised. Below are season 2019’s usage numbers for bench Forwards for the Dragons.

PlayerGamesMinutesMinutes Per Game (MPG)% of possible game timeSingle Game
Low Minutes
Single Game
High Minutes
J. Latimore1132029.0936.36%12 & 1746 & 43
B. Lawrie415238.0047.50%35 & 3740 & 40
L. Leilua1450536.0745.08%9 & 2253 & 52
J. Kerr511723.4029.25%16 & 1734 & 26
K. Sims827234.0042.5%20 & 2251 & 48
J. Host727038.5748.21%19 & 2464 & 58
R. Robson625943.1653.95%32 & 4058 & 46
M. Allgood12323.0028.75%2323
P. Kaufusi2542733.75%1440
T. Frizell1656581.25%6565
  • Note: Reece Robson is included as a bench forward in this analysis as he spent much of his game time on the field with star Hooker Cameron McInnes, playing as Forward generally.

As we saw in 2018, there is again a lack of consistent minutes for the bench forwards. Leilua is the greatest example of this playing as many as 53 & 52 minutes, yet also playing just 9 & 22 on two other occasions. Korbin Sims also has lows of 20 &22, yet highs of 51 & 48. Blake Lawrie, before his promotion to the starting side, saw the most consistent minutes with his high and low just 5 minutes apart. Certainly injuries play a role in the distribution of minutes on a week to week basis, but the Dragons lack of consistency must be maddening for both the fans and the players themselves who must struggle to get into a rhythm and know their roles.


Left on the bench….

The Dragons have been previously identified by this column for being chief culprits in underutilised their four bench players. Here is a comparison of their rotations this season as opposed to last season, and the top 4 of season 2018.

TeamGames with a player who played Zero MinutesGames with a player who played less than 10 minutes
Dragons (2019)18
Dragons (2018)44
Sharks 11

There were far too many instances of bench players contributing less than 10 minutes in a game in season 2018. Sadly, season 2019 has been even worse, and we have only 18 games played so far! The Dragons have had 8 instances this season where a bench player has played less than 10 minutes, double their 2018 total. While their total of unused players (1) has greatly improved on last year (4) they are still well ahead of the competition top squads for 2018 for games with a player who played less than 10 minutes. It seems the shift has been from unused player to marginally used player, still not making the most of their squad.

How spending a million dollars a season can go so wrong:
The sad tale of Ben Hunt

Watching Ben Hunt kick a line drop out under a leaping Paul Vaughn provided us with both the worst play of the year and a moment that sums up Ben Hunts season perfectly: While he may try to do the right things, the errors are just downright embarrassing. This blunder came after he had a week off to freshen up and yet he still does not seem like he is up for the role he was signed for. While his defensive efforts have improved over 2018 his try assists and errors have regressed and he certainly has not become the 2016 version of himself the Dragons were after. Then you also have to consider his massive salary and wonder just how far this albatross of a contract will drag the Dragons down in the coming seasons.

YearTeamTriesTry AssistsTackle %Errors

To experiment with building your own perfect Dragons side check out Zero Tackle’s excellent team builder at

The numbers support it Dragons fans, this has been a season of woe for the Red V. The analysis has taken place now, as in the coming weeks the hope would be that the Dragons starting blooding their younger players, as we saw last weekend with the exciting debut of Jason Saab, which would naturally effect the game planning and strategy of the squad and cloud any analysis. The bad news Dragons fans, we can clearly see that the Dragons use of interchange forwards has not improved since last year and the use of the impact utility has been…. well…. let’s call it a work in progress and check in again next season to see how it shakes out. Just remember Dragons fans, there is always next season.

Agree or Disagree? Got another theory? Let’s hear it in the comments. Got a theory on another team you want tested? Let me know and as always, thanks for reading and good luck to your team this week.


  1. On paper the dragons are a good side.
    A full strength dragons lost 4 tries to 2 last week against a depleted souths but stil put up s fight.
    Will beat the roosters soon but not to be taken as anything great, overall need a better coach.

  2. As I have said before too many ”old boys” on the coaching staff. Glad to read that there will be a review and clean-out at the end of the year, the fans deserve it.

  3. The statistics say it all. What a painful season it’s been for Dragons supporters, and I agree with chalky’s comments about the old boys on the coaching staff. Get rid of Dean Young & Ben Hornby and bring in a couple of experienced assistant coaches. Another thing that hasn’t been mentioned is their only “comfortable” victories have been against the Bulldogs (twice). Two golden point victories, a dubious win over Manly and a win against the Cowboys are not much better than the Gold Coast & the Bulldogs, and unless there are some changes made I can’t see the Dragons doing any better next year.

    The signing of Ben Hunt has become a millstone around the clubs neck, and to think that there are another three years of this to come makes me want to puke. We saw last week how much difference Gareth Widdop makes to the team and I don’t think Corey Norman is the right player to replace him next year. Suffice to say I won’t be holding my breath waiting for things to change.

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