2010 Position: 1st (17 wins and 7 losses)
Gains: Adam Cuthbertson (Cronulla Sharks), Daniel Penese (Penrith Panthers), David Gower (Wests Tigers)
Losses: Jarrod Saffy (Melbourne Rebels – Super Rugby), Beau Henry (Newcastle Knights), Neville Costigan (Newcastle Knights), Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa (North Queensland Cowboys), Jeremy Smith (Cronulla), Michael Lett (Canterbury-Bankstown), Luke Priddis (Retired), Ricky Thorby (North Queensland Cowboys), Junior Paulo (Penrith).
The choker tag has finally been broken. The St George Illawarra Dragons put together a near perfect season in 2010 which culminated in them beating the Sydney Roosters 32-8 in the Grand Final to win their first premiership as a joint venture. The premiership also marked Wayne Bennett’s seventh overall and first premiership since leaving the Brisbane Broncos.
Losing key players such as Neville Costigan, Jeremy Smith and Luke Priddis will hurt their 2011 campaign without a doubt but hope is not lost. The Dragons will be bolstered by the return of Dan Hunt and Nathan Fien who missed most of last season due to injury. Youngster Trent Merrin will continue to improve and it will be interesting to see if Bennett can turn Cuthbertson back into a first grade player.
Looking across the Dragons lineup, Ben Hornby and Jamie Soward seem like the weak links. There are plenty of halves combinations around the league that are equal or better. The difference with these two is that they had a great forward pack in front of them and some outstanding backs behind them. They didn’t have to make the magic themselves ala Benji Marshall or Jarryd Hayne, they simply needed to keep applying the pressure and the other team would eventually crumble.
A full pre-season schedule will also help the fitness and mindset of prodigal son Mark Gasnier to slot better into the well-oiled machine that is the Dragons.
What went right in 2010: Consistency. Consistency not only on the field week in week out but also with their lineup as well. With only two players (Hunt and Fien) missing major time due to injury, the Dragons were able to build some impressive connections. The Dragons were the bench mark for defence throughout 2010, conceding only 299 points in the regular season. They kept mistakes to a minimum and played as a team. Darius Boyd was sensational, barely missing out on the Dally M award. Jason Nightingale stepped out of big Wendell Sailor’s shadow and had an outstanding season. Brett Morris and Nightingale combined for 36 tries and 58 linebreaks.
What went wrong in 2010: They won the Grand Final, nothing went wrong. If we are going to be pedantic though, the Dragons were often lambasted in 2010 for being a boring team. If a penalty goal was on offer, more often than not they’d take it over the option of going for the try. Dragons’ fans for the most part didn’t care as this was a winning formula and that’s all that matters. Although an exciting team can often draw bigger crowds which can in turn, help the club financially.
Final say for 2011: It will be interesting to see how the team handles the loss of Costigan and Smith up front but they have plenty of firepower left behind. The retirement of Priddis might not seem like much on the surface but he was an integral part of their regular season winning ways while Nathan Fien was out injured. Will super coach Wayne Bennett leave the Dragons at the end of the season? And if so, will this have an effect on the teams mentality and consistency? The Dragons will go into 2011 as favourites and they deserve that tag. Two minor premierships and a premiership in the last two seasons make them the team to beat.