SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 13: Gareth Widdop of the Dragons looks on during the round 10 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on May 13, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.

Yuk!

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?

11 COMMENTS

  1. I dont think Saints will start with a bang like last year. The spine looks ok.
    The edge defence looks terrible and I know it’s only one game but against Souths Mary still doesn’t seem confident with the selection. Souths looked far better in structure.
    Dufty knows he has to bide his time.
    Young blocker looks ready to have a breakout season.
    Corbin looks good to give away at least 2 penalties per game.
    As for this rotating hooker role none of the highly successful clubs do it and it feels like we are back in the days of Mitch Rein.

  2. Norman was purchased as a backup for Widdop, with Widdop still playing and one of the Worlds best 5/8’s then I believe Norman should play fullback and Widdop must play 5/8. Saints with a fit Widdop in last seasons semis would of played in the Preliminary final and for this reason Widdop and Hunt should not be separated in the halves.🎱

  3. I couldn’t agree more with this article. The Dragons are going backwards with a clueless coach like McGregor, what can you expect? The edge defence was virtually non existant against South last night. After only 5 minutes Souths were ahead 12-0. I also can’t see the Dragons getting off to a good start. With no Jack De Belin and Leeson Au Mau also gone that takes a lot of strike power out, The Dragons in my opinion will be very ordinary in 2019 and will not make the top 8 then hopefully McGregor will be shown the door which should have happened in 2016.

  4. There are a few untruths as usual in this article, the first being that the Dragons have alienated Matt Dufty. I suggest to Dan Nicholls and anybody who wants to know the truth about Matt Dufty to go to their website and listen to the interview with Ian Millward.

    I reiterate what I have said before about Gareth Widdop playing fullback – It’s a waste of his talents and the team won’t get the benefits he can provide if the coach wants him to play there. I do see this as a gamble, and an unnecessary one, but I stop short of saying “the Dragons risk 2019 for future benefit”. I don’t think Mary is so stupid to do this. Some of the other twaddle in this article about Cameron McInnes, Ben Hunt and Zac Lomax is laughable. The Dragons already have two very good hookers, and if they aren’t careful they will lose one of them (Reece Robson) at the end of the coming season. There are a few clubs who are VERY INTERESTED in him, one being the club where the Australian coach is currently working, and you can be sure that the Roosters will be looking for a replacement for Jake Friend in the not too distant future.

  5. Amazingly insightful comment. You must have finished kindergarten to come up with these pearls of wisdom.

    I think even Donald Trump would laugh at you.

  6. 1. Widdop
    2. Dufty
    3. Aiken
    4. Lomax
    5. Pereira
    6. Norman
    7. Hunt
    8. Vaughan
    9. McInnes
    10. Graham
    11. Frizell
    12. T Sims
    13. K Sims

    14. Feild
    15. Leilua
    16. Host
    17. Latimore/Lawrie

    Keep Frizell in the second row. Keep Dufty starting and have Lomax in his best position. Don’t play your best player Widdop in two different positions and don’t play McInnes 50 mins. With Feild on the bench, he can cover 1-6/7. Or ofcourse you can just play 4 forwards off the bench like a lot of clubs do which would ease the pressure of the other forwards having to cover for JDB.

  7. Look at 3 hats dribbling garbage as usual, your loser club is going to start 2019 the way they finished 2018 getting beat by the superior team/club.

  8. Too many changes to a settled team. I’m glad the dragons have signed a replacement for Widdop but play him 5/8 next year when the position becomes vacant. With a year under their belts and Widdop back from injury, the Dragons semi final team of last year would be a big chance this year. That is with Widdop 5/8 and Dufty fullback (he killed Brisbane last year). Add players to enhance a very good team – don’t upset all to bring in an inconsistent player from the wooden spoon club. There were only two changes they needed to make and they have messed up both of them. De Belin is a big loss but why weaken 2 positions to cover one. Leave Frizell wide where he is most damaging and put Blake Lawrie or Korbin Sims into middle role. The other change they HAD to make was to get rid of Lafai – he is a poor defender, slow and won’t hit the line hard. (His 2 tries vs Souths he found himself with the ball, plenty of room and any half decent under 16’s player could have scored.) With him in the centres we lack punch and teams don’t fear our backline with him there. Lomax must be the 1st CENTRE picked. Play Norman as the other centre. He’s played there before and it is where there is actually a spot to fill. Widdop as good as any 5/8 in the comp. I feel the dragons are throwing away a chance at the title moving him.

  9. 3HATS you clown🤡🤡🤡🤡🤡 I wouldn’t have a clue what your capital lingo means but if you can read capital letters then read this. AZQSXWDCEFVRGBTHNYJMUKILOP…….OK💪🐔👍

  10. Personally, I think the team should be something like this:
    1. Widdop
    2. Pereira
    3. Lafai
    4. Lomax
    5. Ravalawa
    6. Norman
    7. Hunt
    8. Vaughan
    9. McInnes
    10. Simms
    11. Frizell
    12. Simms
    13. Graham (assuming no JDB)
    14. Lattimore
    15. Kerr
    16. Leilua
    17. Lawrie

    I can only see Dufty playing as a full back, maybe he could come on as a rotational player if we are playing smaller packs but I wouldn’t waste an interchange on him.

    The right side center/wing combo is up in the air in my opinion, I would want Lomax at center but I would hate to have 2 rookies on that edge as we seem to leak enough points there.

    I believe Tyson needs to play on an edge and I think it is crazy rotating any of the spine throughout the game.

    I know my team needs a spare back on the bench but I don’t think it can be Dufty (too small to play any position other than fullback) and I haven’t seen enough of our young players to pick one.

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