2022 feels like make or break for St George Illawarra Dragons’ coach Anthony Griffin as the club looks to rebuild from a dismal season just gone.

Despite that, there were positives at the back-end of the year for the famous Red V, who unearthed a host of young talent in Tyrrel Sloan, Talatau Amone and Jayden Sullivan.

Griffin and the recruitment department’s strategy in signing players has been questioned heavily from multiple angles though, with the club bringing in the likes of Aaron Woods, Moses Suli and Tautau Moga.

While they are likely to mainly fill out the depth chart, there is a genuine feeling the Dragons are a few players short of really being able to challenge for anything serious, even if they do find themselves in the mix for the finals at the back-end of the year.

There is also still plenty of criticism surrounding Griffin and his coaching style, with the club objectively underperforming at times over the last year, despite the fact the roster was good enough to challenge.

A mix of experience and youth, combined with talent in the right positions, will be enough to see the Dragons improve, but by how much is anyone’s guess.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 04: Panthers coach Anthony Griffin speaks to the media during the post match press conference after the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Penrith Panthers at UOW Jubilee Oval on March 4, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

So to really take the next step, if we were to remove all salary cap implications and throw contracts out of the window, who would the Dragons steal if they could take anyone in the competition?

Who would your club steal?
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Current squad for 2022

Daniel Alvaro, Jack Bird, George Burgess, Billy Burns, Poasa Faamausili, Mathew Feagai, Max Feagai, Jackson Ford, Tyrell Fuimaono, Jack Gosiewski, Ben Hunt, Josh Kerr, Blake Lawrie, Zac Lomax, Moses Mbye, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire, Tautau Moga, Francis Molo, Cody Ramsey, Mikaele Ravalawa, Tariq Sims, Jaydn Su’a, Moses Suli, Jayden Sullivan, Aaron Woods

Gaps in the Dragons’ best 17

The Dragons are all about youth in key positions for 2022, and as a result, the spine can hardly be identified as a gap.

It’s not going to be premiership-winning at this stage, but there are bigger issues than a spine where Tyrell Sloan will play at fullback, and Ben Hunt will be joined by either Talatau Amone or Jayden Sullivan in the halves, backed up by the experience of Andrew McCullough at hooker.

What is likely to happen is that Sullivan will wear number 14 after impressing during some time at hooker during the final games of 2021, with Amone and Hunt forming the halves.

It means Jack Bird remains either in the centres or the second row, with Moses Suli or Jaydn Su’A missing out pending on which way the coach goes, while the remainder of the side seems fairly settled.

MUDGEE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 27: Jack Bird of the Dragons looks on during the Charity Shield & NRL Trial Match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium on February 27, 2021 in Mudgee, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Zac Lomax will form the other centre position, and Mikaele Ravalawa has one wing position seemingly down pat, although his ball handling and defence can sometimes be susceptible.

Tariq Sims is an Origin calibre player and will line up next to either Su’A or Bird, while Jack de Belin is the lock and won’t be challenged for his position in the number 13.

It’s the second wing spot and in the middle third at prop where the Dragons may have something of a problem.

Cody Ramsey is yet to overly impress in first-grade, and while he has set the world alight with his speed, the rest of his game doesn’t appear to be quite ready for the level required in the NRL.

At prop, it’s looking like Blake Lawrie, George Burgess, Josh McGuire and Francis Molo will battle for the positions.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 11: Blake Lawrie of the Dragons takes on the defence during the round nine NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium on May 11, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

While all four are serviceable, none are that bonafide star the Dragons so clearly need in the middle, and given the youth in the side, given the opportunity to take anyone, it would be critical they take an experienced option to fill the void.

The candidates to steal

Option 1: David Klemmer (Newcastle Knights)
If you’re looking for an experienced prop to do the hard yards, Klemmer could be the go-to option.

The Knights’ enforcer has been relegated to a bench role in the Hunter and reports suggest he was keen on leaving anyway.

But where Klemmer has developed his game so well over the past 24 months is his work rate. While he has always had the big hit or big run in his game, his level of production particularly in 2021, playing big minutes at times, was phenomenal.

His effort in racking up big numbers saw him regularly among the best props in the competition, and the fact he wasn’t considered more seriously for State of Origin came as something of a shock.

He would undoubtedly provide a point of difference in the Dragons pack.

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Option 2: Alex Johnston (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Johnston was a weapon on the left edge for the Rabbitohs in 2021, setting all sorts of records with his try-scoring exploits.

The consistency became something approaching the ridiculous, with barely a game going by when he didn’t find himself on the scoresheet.

He wouldn’t have the same presence coming from the middle of the park at the Red V, but a try-scorer of his ability can do plenty on his own and would find a way to succeed without those Rabbitohs’ stars around him.

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Option 3: Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)
The case for Klemmer is quite fascinating, but the case for Papalii is undeniable in this equation.

The Raiders’ prop, who is one of the mainstays of the Queensland State of Origin team and will represent his country at the next Rugby League World Cup, is a gun.

There is simply no doubt about that.

Averaging big numbers and churning out monster production every week, he wouldn’t provide the same minutes Klemmer would, but the minutes he would provide would be quality, and he would provide the experienced pack leader the Dragons clearly so desperately need moving forward.

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Option 4: Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
While Johnston is a try-scoring freak, if the Dragons were to steal a winger, you can’t help but feel Addo-Carr may actually be the way to go.

That simply comes on the back of him being a far more well-rounded player - someone who has it all.

His defence, it goes without saying, has gone to a completely new level over the last 24 months thanks to the coaching of Craig Bellamy, but his attacking game is wonderful.

A signing like Addo-Carr would undoubtedly give the Dragons some of the best starts to sets in the competition alongside Ravalawa, who has size, and Sloan, who is a noted strong runner of the ball.

The ability for Addo-Carr to chime in through the middle third and finish on the edge on his own makes him something of an ideal recruit for many clubs, but the Dragons could utilise him more than most.

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The verdict

The pros and cons of a winger or prop for the Dragons are fairly varied, and this is the first article in this series where it seems to feel like there is no right answer.

However, Ramsey probably deserves more of a chance to find his feet on the wing without the worry of trying to make it as a fullback. He has the speed to burn, and the footwork to make him a difficult proposition for opposition defensive lines if he can become consistent and iron out the flaws in his game.

The prop is what the Dragons need to really go to the next level.

The club lack a forward leader, someone to inspire the remaining players and lead the way at the toughest of times.

As much as Klemmer would bring on that front, it’s impossible to go past Papalii who has barely spent a year out of the conversation to be included in the team of the year, as well as being one of the first picked for Queensland come State of Origin time.

Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 02: Joshua Papalii of the Raiders pushes away from Isaiah Papali’i of the Warriors as breaks away to score a try during the round 20 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium on August 02, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Next up in this series, we will check out the Sydney Roosters.