Social media knew it was coming, although it was a little later in 2018 than usual.
The almighty, and unfortunately for fans of the Red V, annually ‘choke’ was on.
The March and April premiers the Dragons, who each and every year seem to blow the competition away in the early rounds and then go on to fall from grace to the point where they either miss, or are bounced early from the finals.
Round One: the Dragons belt the Broncos off the park to the tune of 34-12. Ben Hunt has a blinder and sends a huge raspberry the way of Wayne Bennett. Great start.
Round Two: The Dragons beat their fiercest rivals the Sharks in front of a big Thursday night crowd in the Shire. Josh Dugan loses the ball over the line and starts the Dragons comeback. Perfect.
Round Three: A half cenuty, and then some, sees the Dragons belt the Titans 54-4 on the holiday strip. The Dragons are the form team of the competition and look incredible. Widdop will win the Dally M in a landslide.
Round Four: Another attacking blitz lead by Gareth Widdup sees the Red V belt the Knights 30-12. Too easy.
Round Five: The Dragons win a close one. 16-12 over the Bunnies. it wasn’t as pretty as the two proceeding weeks but it was valuable. Great win over a premiership contender.
Round Six: A huge 40-20 win over the Sharks sees the Dragons record a second win over their local rivals in the space of four rounds. They’re flying, no one can stop them this season, surely.
Round Seven: A blip. A loss to the Warriors. Not to worry, a tough away trip and the loss they had to have.
Round Eight: A 24-8 win on Anzac day over the competition favourites has the Dragons back on track. Seriously, who can stop the juggernaut? This forward pack is dominating all before them. Widdop is Dally M elect. Hunt and Graham are the signings of the season.
Round Nine: The Sharks BELT the premiers. 34-14. Euan Aitken is monstering all before him. Paul Vaughan cannot be stopped. Widdop, AGAIN!!! Dragons fans rush to purchase Grand Final tickets and who can blame them …
I’m going to stop there. I’ve made my point, the Dragons started on fire.
Fast forward to a week out from the finals series and the Dragons are whacked 38-0 by a Bulldogs side closer to the spoon than finals contention. The players are boo’ed off the park, literal jerseys are set alight by angry fans. This team is not only now at long odds of a top four finish but are staring down the barrel of an away trip to Brisbane or Auckland in round one of the finals.
YUK!!! What went wrong!?
Dragons fans are quick to point to Origin as their club’s downfall but given recent history, perhaps the joint venture club is just allergic to playing good footy when it really matters!?
Of course I joke but something has gone seriously wrong in Kogarah/The Gong. Fans are calling for resignations from the CEO to the ball boys and girls, and everyone in between.
Ben Hunt is arguably the most heavily scrutinised player in the game right now. Considering his contract is worth a reported $1.2 million a year, that’s not all that crazy.
He is playing some horrible football. I hate to kick a player when he’s down but his form is not good. He is capable of turning it around but he looks out of ideas.
Halves partner Gareth Widdop is out injured, but even before his stint on the sidelines his form was not great.
Teams really figured both halves out and the increased pressure has lead to a plethora of mistakes that have become fodder for the media and those far more clever than myself across social media.
Euan Aitken has fallen from NSW Origin certainty to a player who wouldn’t be out of position in NSW Cup. Once again, I hate to say that as I’m a fan of Aitken, but his confidence is down and he has been taken to task over recent weeks.
Matt Dufty was an outsider to claim an unlikely Origin spot in the early rounds but has barely been sighted in the past few weeks. His demotion to the bench in last Sunday’s must win encounter says it all.
Up front, Paul Vaughan’s injury was a horror blow to his side’s chances. He was the pack leader and in supreme form. He finally earned a well over due Origin jersey and was playing well when he went down hurt.
Unfortunately the rest of the once untouchable Dragons pack was unable to match his efforts. Tyson Frizell is half as effective in the front row, James Graham works hard but can’t punch holes ala Andrew Fifita, David Klemmer, Marty Taupau etc, while Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin aren’t the wrecking balls that saw them demand Origin jumpers.
The Dragons simply don’t have a plan B. Opposition coaches worked them out. Sure it took ten weeks but from there the Dragons haven’t been the same side.
The shifts wide are easily dealt with. The second phase play is few and far between. The absence of Widdop makes it far easier for defenses to target Hunt into error. Cam McInnes no longer has the space to punch holes in weak market defense.
I wrote earlier that form doesn’t overly matter coming into the finals. No side should be happier to hear that than the out of sorts Red V.
They need to find a plan B this weekend and beyond or they’ll be searching Trivago for end of season trip deals sooner rather than later.