Pre-season prediction: 11th
Actual finish: 11th
St George Illawarra Dragons 2017 Player Movements
2016 never shaped as a season the Dragons were likely to trouble the big guns on a consistent basis, but given the make-up of the side, fans of the Red V could have been forgiven for expecting to be in the reckoning come finals time.
Josh Dugan is one of the elite fullbacks of the competition, and despite an early move into centres, can light up any game, at any time, from any position.
Gareth Widdop remains a five-eighth held in high regard, while Mann, Nightingale and Aitken all looked eager and capable heading into the season.
Unfortunately, the Dragons attack never really hit their straps and their season never really fired as a result. They petered out and quite frankly never looked finals bound at any stage during 2016.
Star player: Tyson Frizell
On paper, Frizell’s stats aren’t anything to write home about, but he efforts went well beyond his output of three tries and one line-break, in 2016 that saw him become an Origin star.
The Dragons pack weren’t always able to lay down a platform needed for Widdop, Marshall and co to create try-scoring opportunities, but it was never down to a lack of effort or output from the future rep main-stay.
Frizell powered to almost 100 metres per game, made over 30 tackles per game, and created plenty of second phase play with his ability to offload.
To think that Frizell is still only 25 is pretty scary, as is the ceiling on just how good this kid can become. 2017 shapes as a monster year.
Season highlight: 32-18 win over the Sharks in Round 23
The Dragons avenged their horror round two belting at the hands of their local rivals the Sharks by returning serve on a cold Saturday night, in front of their loyal fans.
After gifting a try to Valentine Holmes, the Dragons seemed to click into gear, scoring with an ease they would not enjoy with any consistency in 2016.
The Sharks didn’t lose many one-on-one battles in 2016, but they lost nearly every battle across the park as a fan more determined Dragons outfit.
Although on the night, Dragons fans were beyond happy, the ability to put one of the best sides in the competition away will frustrate fans and have them asking why their side was unable to perform like this more often.
Best signing: Paul Vaughan
The Dragons had a few spots to fill in their squad heading into 2017. Atop that list were the need for a creative half and a creative ball-playing forward capable of making plenty of metres.
The jury will be out on the decisions made re the halfback role, however, in Paul Vaughan they have signed a big man, with an even bigger upside.
To be honest, I’m not sure why Vaughan fell out of favour in the nation’s capital, but fans of the Red V won’t be concerned as Vaughan chose to make a lucrative move north.
Vaughan is capable of anything and will be looked upon as a pack leader for the Dragons. With Vaughan joining the likes of Frizell, Thompson and Sims in the pack, the Dragons backline should be afforded plenty of space to create points.
Josh Dugan’s brilliant Four-Nations in the centres: Josh Dugan is a freak of a player. He would walk into most sides in the world, in any position across the back five. He seems as though he wants to play in the centres, despite being a mile ahead of the next best fullback at the club. That said, Dugan will be the best player in any position, and his performances for the Kangaroos in the centres make it hard to deny him a starting role in the centres next season. He and Aitken should provide plenty of attack out wide.
A new season: This may sound like a cop out but I’m very genuine in saying this. 2017 is a new season. Unless you’re the Sharks or Knights, 2016 doesn’t count for much. Anyone who finishes between 15th and 2nd enters the new season having largely forgotten the previous year. 2016 wasn’t a horror season, but it also wasn’t very good. It’s in the past now, and the attacking woes, the defensive struggles, the ill-discipline are now in the past.
Season Grading: D
The Dragons were far from the worst side in 2016, but at times they were arguably the worst side to watch. I was pulling my hair out at the lack of creativity, I have no idea how fans of the Red V managed.
The Kurt Mann experiment at fullback bombed terribly, although he ultimately ended up being the most potent member of their backline once moved to the wing.
Benji Marshall’s exit was supposed to usher in the Drew Hutchinson era, however, a pre-season injury means the Dragons are looking for a halves partner for Gareth Widdop. Josh McCrone is likely to be the man to step into the vacant number seven, and a lot will rest on his ability to find the form that once saw him earmarked as a future star in Canberra.
Paul McGregor enters 2017 under immense pressure and could find himself in some tough press conferences should his side fail to fire early.
I hope for fans of the Dragons sake, they are able to find a way to try-line, and quickly.