during the round eight NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Allianz Stadium on April 25, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.

Dragon’s fans, I fully admit to having written your side off before round one. Two and a half rounds in, I think the large majority of NRL fans were with me.

The Dragons recruitment was heavily criticised, with good reason, and it was hard to see the squad having enough firepower, or defensive muscle, to worry any of the top sides.

I genuinely believe Paul McGregor used the perception that his side were seen as more likely to finish in the bottom four than the top eight, to fire his side to a brilliant season.

Although they exited the competition in the first week of the finals, the Dragons can be very happy with their efforts, having proven many, myself included, wrong.

Season Highlight: 42-6 win over the Sharks (Round 12)

A win over local rivals the Sharks in any circumstance is brilliant, but the way they put their travelling neighbours to the sword in round 12

On the day the Dragons dominated every stat of importance, running in six tries to one. As a quick aside, the one try they did concede should not have been awarded.

Josh Dugan had a field day from the back, running for well over 200 metres, while the halves pairing of Marshall and Widdop dominated their Shark counterparts.

The biggest surprise on the day was the way in which the Dragons forwards outplayed a Sharks heavily fancied pack.

Season Lowlight: 22-4 loss to the Tigers (Round 2)

Although we now know what would follow, at this time, this was the game that had Dragons fans wondering if perhaps everyone was right about their side.

Coming off a tight loss to the Storm, the Dragons were taken apart by a Tigers side expected to struggle in 2015.

I wish I had taken the names down, but some on social media were threatening to tear up season memberships after the round two performance.

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66% completion rate. 18 errors. Almost 200 metres less than their opponents gained despite Trent Merrin almost racking up 200 on his own. The stats were not good. Luckily this did not become a pattern.

Star Player: Josh Dugan

It’s a shame all the time regarding Dugan is about his wanting to play in the NFL rather than his brilliant 2015.

His efforts were such that he earned a return to the Origin set up, in his favoured fullback role.

Unfortunately Dugan’s history with injuries is well documented, however that seems to finally be in the past, allowing him his best year to date.

12 line breaks and seven tries illustrates the danger he presents in attack, while he defensive work and positioning was top notch.

Most Disappointing Player: George Rose

Big George Rose was picked up by the Red V in hope that he would add size and aggression to their front row.

The reality was that Rose bounced between NSW Cup and the odd bench appearance at NRL level.

With his short stints and the reduction in interchanges next season, I’m not sure how many NRL games he plays next year.

He played a bit part role, however never lived up to the impact he produced during his time at Manly.

Future Star: Euan Aitken

The departure of Dane Nielson, and the lack of form out the Dragons other outside backs meant 20 year-old Euan Aitken made his debut sooner than expected.

His 23 games yielded great results for the Dragons, going well beyond his six tries.

Truth be told, the Dragons outside backs lacked flair early on, but Aitken provided just that, as well as a big body in defence.

His efforts were rewarded with an extended contract and the chance to represent the PMXI against the Kumuls.

Best Signing For 2016: Sebastine Ikahihifo

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Ikahihifo is not the biggest name to move clubs for next season, but his 95 kilogram presence in the second row, will go a long way to replacing Trent Merrin.

Tyson Frizzel and Joel Thompson both had career best years, and the addition of the 24 year-old former Warrior rounds out a youthful yet destructive back row.

He’ll likely play from the bench, at least in the early rounds, which will provide much needed spark, something the Dragons had to move their main man Merrin to the pine to achieve.

I certainly don’t expect Ikahihifo to provide the influence of the likes of RTS and Maloney next season, but his signing is a good one.

Outlook:

For the second year in a row, the Dragons recruitment drive has been underwhelming, and will rely on players playing above themselves.

That being said, the likes of Dugan, Aitken, Widdop and Marshall can provide plenty in attack, while Mike Cooper, Jack de Belin and Mitch Reign are better entering 2015 than they were at this time 12 months ago.

It’d be hard to point the Dragons amongst the list of next season’s favourites, however I would expect them to be right in the reckoning come finals time.

Season Grading: B+

It’s fair to say that the Red V proved the large majority of critics wrong by playing finals footy in 2015.

Their star players stood up and were counted, their solid players played above themselves, and they unearthed a brilliant young centre.

At times the Dragons were the form team of the competition, and their win over the Roosters on Anzac day was arguably the most memorable game of the season.

Prior to the final half an hour of round three, things looked pretty grim for the club, however after a successful season and a decent, if unspectacular recruitment drive, things aren’t so dark any more.

15 COMMENTS

    • Mulholland stated that his ‘job was done’ at the Dragons and that he owns property in the Canberra area and is looking to retire down there.

  1. With the Warriors, Manly and to a lesser extent Canberra improving thier rosters I can’t see dragons making the 8 next year.

    Merrin is a huge loss and Packer and Masoe are good but they are not on Merrins level.

    Are Dragons fans still supporting the coach? Would you drop him for Cleary?
    ( I personally don’t think Cleary has proved himself to be an elite coach)

    • I think the Dragons have recruited pretty well. They will basically field the same starting team (bar merrin) in 2016, the same team that had them on top of the ladder. The issue was when Origin and injuries struck the back up from the Cutters wasn’t good enough to cover. The signings are for depth in this area and to give certain players “down” time when they need to, instead of playing injured. Also, with the reduced interchange, their will be a need to rotate players on a more consistent level.
      A lot of supporters want “big name” signings, however, if they were so “big named” why did their current teams let them go? There is always smoke around a fire. Some of these “big name” players have 5 or 6 big games a season, and are worshiped for a big hit or a spectacular try or play, but its never consistent. For example manly just signed Tapou, he’s a very good player, but if you examine his season he is a 50/50 player, 50% good and 50% gone missing. I would have Leeson Ah Mau anytime, as he gives 100% each game.
      If you analyse the Dragons signing and structure, its obvious they are securing a rotation based program not only for 2016 but beyond when maybe the interchange will reduce to 6.

      • Yeah I agree with you about some players just coasting on thier reputation.
        However I think Tapau is a decent player but he is ill disciplined. Give away silly penalties but he was also playing in a team where the players don’t respect the coach.

        He avg about 50 minuets a game and makes over 100 metres more often then not. The only players doing that consistently at Manly was Jake T. His defence is suspect but so is the entrie tigers team.
        He is the damaging ball runner they needed, look at watmough footage circa 2008 that’s what they have been missing.
        It all comes down to what they paid.
        NRL is a real Money ball game

  2. Canberra are as about reliable as a politician
    We will be there Merrin is not a big loss we lost morris and we still did well
    The dogs souths and chooks will not be as good in 2016

  3. 1. Dugan
    2. Faifai Loa
    3. Aiken
    4. Mann
    5. Nightingale
    6. Widop
    7. Benji
    8. Packer
    9. Rein
    10. De Belin
    11. Masoe
    12. Frizzel
    13. Thompson
    – – – – – – –
    14. Liu
    15. Creagh
    16. Ah Mau
    17. Cooper
    – – – – – – –
    18. Havilli
    19. Ihakaifo
    20. Mata’utia

    Fighting for the top 8 but I think making 9 unfortunately. Better backline, good halves, good size, good depth. Just missing that marquee forward which would have really pushed them. Ihakaififo as major signing is a joke. Mann is definitely a the best pick up. Packer is handy as if Masoe.

    • I think they will be 5th-8th. They have a good spread of quality across the park with a good and experienced spine. The forwards will provide the go forward the backs need with the ability of De Belin, Frizzell and Thompson to play big minutes at a high intensity. This is important with the new rules allowing for the Dragon’s to save interchanges to maximise the impact of Packer, Masoe, Cooper and Ah Mau. Add to that a year of experience for McGregor and I think it will be a positive year.

  4. All in all the Dragons had a pretty damned good 2015. With a Rookie NRL Coach and a very young side overall, they just got pipped by the Dogs (thanks largely to disgusting foul play by Eastwood on Benji)- who were supposedly a contender.

    The diabolical years under Steve Price seem to have finally been put to rest.

    For the first time in several seasons the Dragons pack will be balanced, with players in correct positions. If Packer comes in, Masoe, De Belin, Frizell, Ah Mau, Cooper and Rein are all pretty handy players. The three quarter line is an ongoing project, and Benji is possibly in his final NRL Season so that is an issue to solve. Widdop should be Club captain in 2016, he is the Dragons star player with Ben Creagh only likely to be a bench player.

    Only the Dragons lack of depth let them down in 2015 with a massive mid-season injury toll they let their season slip. In 2016 they won’t yet be title contenders, but if they can show depth they’ll be a great chance to make the eight again. Success breeds respect and the Red V are beginning to earn that.

  5. My 2016 team
    1. Josh Dugan
    2. Kurt Mann
    3. Euan Aitken
    4. Peter Matau’tia
    5. Jason Nightingale
    6. Gareth Widdop
    7. Benji Marshall
    8.Mike Cooper
    9. Mitch Rein
    10. Leeson Ah Mau
    11. Tyson Frizell
    12. Joel Thompson
    13. Jack de Belin

    14. Russel Packer
    15. Mose Masoe
    16. Will Matthwes
    17.Dunmuis Lui

  6. 1.Dugan
    2.Faifai Loa
    3.Aitken
    4.Mann
    5.Nightingale
    6.Widdop
    7.Marshall
    8.Ah Mau
    9.Rein
    10.Cooper
    11.frizell
    12.Thompson
    13.De Belin
    14.Lui
    15.Masoe
    16.Creagh
    17.Matthews

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