Dragons and England superstar Gareth Widdop recently sent shockwaves through the minds of fans wearing the famous Red V when he announced his intention to return home to England.
At first, it sounded as though he may leave before the 2019 season even kicked off, but it has since been settled that he will play out this year before moving possibly as soon as after this season’s finals series.
The Dragons moved quickly to sign a replacement in Corey Norman for 2020 and beyond but given the Eels salary cap position combined with their awful 2018, Norman was released a year early.
All of this makes perfect sense on paper but the Dragons are running a huge risk, at least in early 2019, by trying to fit five into four.
I want to say straight up that Norman is a clever signing and the Dragons had to take their opportunity to replace Widdop given that he is set to leave the club.
That said, the current Dragons set up looks like one that is going to take time to gel.
There is little, or truthfully no doubt, that Widdop is the best number six in that Dragons squad. He was electric in 2018 and was leading the Dally M medal count early on.
Injury and the Dragons loss of form brought him back to the field but even with Norman in the squad, Widdop is the undisputed number one at number six.
He will start the season in the number one jumper.
Although I have no doubt that Widdop will ultimately pay very well in the custodian role, the Dragons are weaker in the halves as a result.
They’ve also alienated their young superstar Matt Dufty who looks set for either a stint in NSW cup or a role that will see him come off the bench each week.
The Charity Shield set up confirmed earlier reports that Dufty would come into fullback in the second half of games with Widdop shifting into the halves with Hunt moving to nine with McInnes coming off the park.
My head hurt just typing that sentence let alone trying to digest it.
If this becomes the norm every week for the Dragons we’ll see an 80 minute number nine, in genuine contention for an Origin jersey less than a year ago, relegated to a 50 minute role.
We’ll see a halfback that the Dragons are paying over a million dollars a season shifted from his playmaking role.
We’ll see the Dragons 2018 top try scorer and at ties sole threat in attack, Matt Dufty take up a bench spot despite only being able to play one position. He’ll play 30 minutes at fullback.
Widdop, the Dragons best player, will be required to play two positions across 80 minutes, including 30-or-so minutes in the defensive line after returning kicks from fullback.
Imagine what this will do to the confidence of Dufty. The very same Dufty which the Dragons re-signed last week to play number one for the club in the long term.
McInness too. Brilliant season Cam, you’re second in line for an Origin jersey but you’ll be forced to play 50 minutes each week so Corey Norman can play 80.
Widdop, learn two games. Yes, the positions can be similar but you spend 50 minutes returning kicks, positioning yourself and directing the defensive line then suddenly you’re in the line. That’s tough, even for a player of Widdop’s pedigree.
As for Hunt, the million dollar man, we’re going to shift you out of position to play number nine to accommodate Norman.
That’s a huge risk for a player who with all due respect has been painfully inconsistent over the past two seasons.
Of course all this is speculation and perhaps Dufty will spend the season playing for the Cutters, but I absolutely hate that option.
Dufty was playing a lone hand at times in 2018. The Dragons faultered after an electric start. Hunt and Widdop struggled. Dufty had the speed and footwork to take on the line.
To lose that, or at worst minimise that, for a one-season quick fix seems a huge risk to me.
The other option is Norman plays for the Cutters. Considering Widdop has spent the pre-season reportedly training at fullback that seems to be out of the question.
Throw in young Lomax being asked to play out of position and the chance that Frizell may have to play lock for the 2019 season and the Dragons are going to take time to settle.
It may work out as the NRL season isn’t won in rounds 1 to 10, however it certainly can be lost.
I fear that the Dragons are taking a risk that could send them backwards, at least in the short term.
Let us know below, will the Widdop to fullback move prove a success? Is Norman worth the risk? Am I seeing too much in Dufty?