BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 01: In this handout image provided by NRL Photos Tyrell Sloan of the Dragons scores a try during the round 20 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Browne Park, on August 01, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by NRL Photos via Getty Images )

The St George Illawarra Dragons have had an abysmal end to the season - there is no getting around that.

I don’t want to repeat the same stat which has been used by every pundit in the sport, but they haven’t won a single game since barbecue gate.

In a lot of ways, last night’s loss to a virtual reserve grade South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit was a fitting end to a fairly tumultuous period.

And frankly, it’s the end of an era at the joint venture. Corey Norman’s time at the club ended with a dropped ball 20 seconds from fulltime, and not to pile on the half, but him having an opportunity to do something only to drop the ball sums up his entire time at the club.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Corey Norman of the Dragons kicks the ball during the round 3 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium at Suncorp Stadium on March 28, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Joining Norman out the door will be Matt Dufty and Cameron McInnes (who has been injured all year), as well as a retiring Trent Merrin, Kaide Ellis and Paul Vaughan.

It is a clean out in respects, but it’s Norman and Dufty who are the two biggest players to leave the clubs - and not because of what they do or don’t bring - but because of the spots they open up.

Really, the only bright spot for the Red V in recent weeks has been the addition to the team of young guns Jayden Sullivan, Tyrrel Sloan and Talatau Amone (formerly Junior Amone).

For a team who have struggled enormously with their attack, seeing three young guns with all the weapons you could possibly hope for running around has been a breath of fresh air for Anthony Griffin’s side.

The Dragons have struggled enormously for attack this season, with Matt Dufty really the only bright spot for much of it. There was some good moments for Ben Hunt, and the forwards muscled up at times, but outside of Dufty there has been little.

The last few weeks, a couple of hard-fought losses to the North Queensland Cowboys and Sydney Roosters, as well as the closing moments of the season against the South Sydney Rabbitohs proved beyond all reasonable doubt though that Sloan is the future at the back.

Sloan missed the Roosters game, however, played the Cowboys and the Rabbitohs. He has scored a try in each first grade game, assisted a few others and been generally very dangerous with the football.

What has been more impressive is his combination with Jayden Sullivan and Amone, the trio having previously led the Dragons to an SG Ball premiership before COVID and the global pandemic, as well as bubbles and border closures ruined any idea of playing second tier rugby league over the past two seasons.

Despite that, and without a lot of footy under the belt, the trio have taken to first grade exceptionally, Amone lining up in the halves alongside the departing Norman thanks to an injury to Ben Hunt, and Jayden Sullivan doing an outstanding job at hooker.

Sullivan hasn't played at hooker at any point during his junior days, and yet made 51 tackles without a miss last night against the Rabbitohs who had wave after wave of attack.

Tackles Made
All Run Metres
Tackle Breaks

That isn't to say Sullivan is a future dummy half, but he did put in an outstanding performance which shows he is up to the rigours of first grade.

And that is what the Dragons needed to know. Can they hand the keys to the machine over to the talented trio in 2022?

Bring the experience of Hunt back in, and the answer is absolutely an emphatic yes.

That's not to say the Dragons are suddenly going to become premiership hopefuls, but they should be looking at big improvement, if not next year, then certainly in 2023 once the trio have had more first grade experience.

With Hunt taking one halves position, there is every chance Sullivan will take the number 14 jersey for 2022, although the signing of Moses Mbye throws another spanner in the works.

St George Illawarra have often had problems putting faith in youth, stretching back to the times of Paul McGregor being in charge of the club.

The signing of Mbye suggests Anthony Griffin is going to struggle with the same problem heading into 2022, however, it's simply not the way the coach needs to be lining up his team.

It may be a case of short-term pain for long-term gain, but the future of the Dragons is bright.

It's time to unleash it.