SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 17: Ben Hunt of the Dragons looks on during the NRL trial match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and Hull at ANZ Stadium on February 17, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

It’s now mid August which means it’s time for the yearly Dragons fall from grace, correct?

The joke across social media was that if the premiership was won in March or April, then no other side would stand a chance against the mighty Red V.

The above are two lazy, worn out jokes made by jealous fans each and every year across both the bar table and more recently across social media.

The above two lines, unfortunately for fans of the club, also pretty much sum up their side’s 2018 campaign to date.

As it stands, with three rounds of NRL action yet to be played, the Dragons sit in fifth place. They’re just four points off the competition leaders the Roosters, although points differential means they’re all but three wins away from top spot.

If you’d offered any club other than say the Roosters or Storm that position before the season kicked off, you’d have to imagine they’d take it.

They’re only two points off fourth spot, with only a 13 point differential turn around needed to edge out the Panthers. That’s a good spot to be in with three very winnable games remaining.

On paper, the Dragons are up to their eyeballs in this premiership race.

In reality, the Dragons are limping toward an early finals exit while facing the increasingly possible proposition of an away, sudden death final in round one.

Although highly unlikely the Dragons could still actually miss the finals, but considering the way they started the competition, that is both astounding and downright sad.

This is a side that won it’s opening six games. This included two wins against local rivals and premiership contenders the Sharks. They crushed the highly fancied Broncos 34-12 in the season opener, then put 50 on the Titans two weeks later.

Ben Hunt had the ball on a string, Matt Dufty was the game’s next superstar fullback and Gareth Widdop just had to stay fit to collect his Dally M medal.

The Red V forward pack were swapping away heavyweight forward packs like flies.

A round seven slip up to the Warriors was followed by back to back wins over the two premiership favourites the Roosters then the Storm.

Sure, we’d seen the early Dragons rampage before but surely this year would be different. A marquee halves signing and the recruitment of the games hardest working prop.

Throw in the emergence of Euan Aitken as one of the game’s elite centres and the presence of a clever number nine in McInnes. Surely 2018 would be different.

Last Saturday’s 40-4 drubbing by the last-placed Eels suggests maybe not.

The Dragons have now lost their last three games and five of their last six. Their only wins since the round 13 buy have come against Manly, the Bulldogs, Parra and the Cowboys, the competitions bottom four sides.

Gareth Widdop is now injured and looks like the finals will be the earliest he will return. Ben Hunt has lost confidence and ran for a total of zero metres against one of the competition’s most easily towel whipped defenses.

Euan Aitken has been bathed each and every week since his being overlooked for Origin and now looks more like a NSW cup player than a NSW rep player.

Matt Dufty tries hard but he’s running behind a well beaten forward pack.

Simply put, the Dragons look done. A loss to the Tigers this weekend puts them in massive danger of missing the finals. The Tigers could jump to 26 competition points and whatever they win by would be doubled in terms of points differential turn around. A 20 or 30-point win puts the Dragons right on the edge.

So … can they turn it around?

I want to say no. Their form suggests no. Widdop’s absence suggests no. Paul Vaughan’s injury suggests no.

Hand on heart I don’t believe the Dragons can win the comp. Ten weeks ago I thought differently. They simply can’t match the Roosters, Bunnies, and Storm. Id rate Penrith, the Sharks and even the Warriors a better chance.

They’ve probably dropped too far to be top four finishers either. They’ll make the eight, but I can’t seem them being more than fodder come finals time.

If they draw the Sharks or Broncos in round one I can see them bouncing either side. Otherwise it’s curtains for 2018 and onto another March premiership in 2019.

Usually I like to end these pieces on a positive. List a heap of reasons to reassure Dragons fans that the past few weeks should be forgotten, but in this instance I just can’t.

Their best bet right now would be to turn all the calendars in the league’s clubs back to March, crank up the air con and hope to re-find the form that in the early rounds made them run away competition favourites.

Watch the Dragons come out and put 40 on the Tigers this weekend now.

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