One sleep to go! With the NRL season kicking off tomorrow, we continue our previews with a look at one of last year's biggest disappointments, the Dragons.
Ins: Tyrell Fuimaono (Panthers), Issac Luke (Warriors), Eddie Blacker, Jackson Ford, Jason Saab (upgraded from development contracts), Brayden Wiliame (Catalans)
Outs: Jonus Pearson (Titans), Jeremy Latimore (retired), Gareth Widdop (Warrington), Reece Robson (Cowboys), Steven Marsters (Rabbitohs), Mitchell Allgood, Jai Field, Lachlan Maranta, Patrick Kaufusi, Darren Nicholls, Lachlan Timm (unsigned)
To put it mildly, the Dragons stank up the joint in 2019. They were spared a wooden spoon battle due to the fact the Titans were absolutely dire. This had very little to do with their efforts.
Widdop's injury certainly didnt help, and the club just couldn't move on from the Jack de Belin reports, but all their megastar performers failed to produce anything worth while on any sort of consistent basis.
A side containing Hunt, Norman, Vaughan, and Frizell should not be finishing as low as they did last year.
Cam McInness had a wow of a season but outside of the star number nine, there wasn't much to write home about in the Red V for 2019.
Lomax bounced round positions stunting his growth, Matt Dufty went from future superstar to be shopped around in a matter of half a season, while the likes of Sims and Graham struggled.
Predicted Best Player: Ben Hunt
This will cause some controversy I'm sure. Ben Hunt, despite his incredible talent, has unfortunately been reduced to a drop meme and taunts on Dragons fan pages.
This is hugely unfair.
Hunt is a top quality half who has suffered at the Dragons, but truthfully only Cooper Cronk would have made a genuine go out of the Dragons number seven recently.
He'll finally have a settled halves partner after a ridiculous amount of personnel changes last year. He and Norman have no option but to gel, and quickly. I believe they will.
I think his days at Origin level are done, which is another plus for Hunt to finally realize his incredible potential and, to fans, justify his massive contract.
Predicted Top Scorer: Zac Lomax
Zac Lomax is a brilliant young talent who unfortunately suffered in 2019 through his coach's inability to really know what to do with him.
He had stints at centre, fullback, wing, and played off the bench during his 13 NRL appearances.
That said, he now has three NRL pre-seasons under his belt and almost 20 NRL games on his resume. I expect, injury aside, that number to more than double in 2020 as he makes the fullback role his own.
With all the talent the Dragons have, it failed to translate into tries last year. I expect similar struggles this year however Lomaz should break out and top score with around 12.
The Dragons will run out with two fresh recruits in their 13 this weekend in Luke and Williame. Truthfully Luke was probably brought in as cover for the nine jumper but there are far worse "back-up" hookers out there.
Williame brings with him plenty of raw potential but hasn't been able to lock down his position long-term despite bouncing from club to club.
Tyrell Fuimaono, Billy Brittain and Trent Merrin are also on the bench, bringing five recruits to the first 17 named.
Having finished 15th last year, recruits were needed. Luke and Merrin bring with them incredible pedigree and plenty of rep and finals experience. It will be needed.
2020 Final Position: 13th
There is (almost) nowhere for the Red V to go in 2020 other than up. They were awful last year and for the life of me I don't understand how wholesale changes weren't made at all levels of the club.
Moving forward they're a club who boast an incredible talent roster yet are destined to come up short.
The big in comes in the form of former Sharks title-winning coach Shane Flanagan. For all the negativity he brought to the Dragon's biggest rivals, he also brought a defensive steel they'd never had. Expect that to be evident in the Dragons defense this year.
It all comes down to Hunt and Norman. If they fire, the 8 is well within reach. If not, then they'll be flat chat avoiding another early-season exit.
McInness being injured hurts but he should be back within a month-or-so, while Merrin's return should provide plenty in terms of footballing ability and experience.
Truthfully this squad, on paper, should be in final's contention, but there's too many players coming off career worst (or close to it) years to predict anything other than a low table finish.