St George Illawarra Dragons: Season Review

Regular Season
WINS: 17
LOSSES: 7
POSITION: 1st
HOME RECORD: 10 wins, 2 losses (=3rd)
AWAY RECORD: 7 wins, 5 losses (=1st)
 
After Finals
Lost 25-12 v Eels and lost 24-10 v Broncos to finish fifth.
 
BEST WINNING STREAK: 7 (rounds 14-23, byes rd 15 & 19)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 3 (rounds 23-25)
PLAYERS USED: 27
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ben Creagh
TRIES SCORED (After 26 rounds): 92 (6th most)
TRIES CONCEDED (After 26 rounds): 56 (Fewest)
 
The air just couldn't make it through the Dragons’ windpipes in the final stages of the year and the St George Illawarra club gained the unwanted tag of being the first minor premiers in an eight-team finals series to go out the back door with back-to-back losses.

Call it a choke, or don't, but the fact remains St George Illawarra had shown they could match it with the best teams during the regular season. But when it mattered, they couldn't lift another gear to get the job done.

However the Wayne Bennett era has begun and at least the side has proven it can show some consistent effort through a regular season.

If they can only entice a superstar or two to the club, they might just be able to take further steps towards premiership glory.

While no doubt gutted with the end result, the club can look back and be proud of its first minor premiership as a joint venture and provided they don't hold mental scarring from September, can look to build in the years ahead.

Where They Excelled… In the regular season the Dragons were the team to beat. They made fewer errors than other teams and made more metres plus they had the NRL's best kicking game. Consequently they ground other teams into the turf.

If they managed to get a lead, they rarely relinquished it, showing steely determination in defence. They conceded fewer tries than all other teams.

Their back three were great at starting of sets and contributed more kick-return line breaks than any other club.

Yep, the side was purely clinical – if they had of been able to lift their intensity at season's end they could have easily won the title.

Where They Struggled… The Dragons just didn't have a star who could produce the goods in the big games.

Jamie Soward had a massive year and showed some creativity but most of this was done on the back of a side dominating and winning.

When their backs were to the wall the Dragons had problems producing match-winning plays and they probably need to recruit a marquee player to help in this regard. One wonders what Bennett would have produced had he still had a Mark Gasnier or a Trent Barrett in the arsenal.

Missing In Action…  The Dragons were extremely blessed in terms of injury throughout the regular season, with the only regular first grader to miss a fair chunk of football being Jeremy Smith. Smith had an ankle complaint which had him missing 11 games.

Matt Cooper ended his year with several niggles, particularly a very troublesome heel injury which limited his effectiveness, while Dean Young (team-high 884 tackles) will have an annoying off-season after breaking his wrist in the final game of the year.

Turning Point… The positive turning point for the Dragons was their opening round golden-point loss to the Storm. Jamie Soward in particular was hammered from pillar to post for missing a tackle on Greg Inglis and the side just used the criticism to fuel them.

They went on to grind out four consecutive wins from that point and stamp themselves as contenders.

It all started going sour for the Dragons when they were bashed 24-12 by the Raiders in Canberra in Round 23. The match gave other teams belief and smashed the confidence of the Red V a little – certainly enough to push them into a three-game losing streak which finished with a humiliating 41-6 loss to the Rabbitohs.

While the team regrouped to annihilate Parramatta in the final round to clinch the minor premiership and JJ Giltinan Shield, the chinks in the armour had been exposed and the Eels and Broncos put them to the sword in the finals.

Best Games… The final regular season 37-0 win over Parramatta was a great night for the club. In front of a packed Kogarah crowd the Dragons crushed the Eels with a clinical display that won them the minor premiership and saw Brett Morris take the top try-scorer crown with a great hat-trick.

The side’s 26-12 win over Melbourne in Round 21 at WIN Jubilee was also impressive and would get plenty of votes for game of the year.

The Round 4, 25-12 win over Brisbane in Brisbane was especially sweet for Bennett as it was the first time he coached against his former club.
 
Worst Games… The 41-6 loss to the Rabbitohs in Round 25 was by far the Dragons’ worst performance in 2009… perhaps close to the worst ever excluding the 70-10 loss to Melbourne in 2000.

The side looked like a bunch of amateurs who had forgotten how to tackle and a Rabbitohs team already planning Mad Monday celebrations just embarrassed them. Other than that game the Dragons were fairly gallant in defeats, although the two finals losses would cut deep.

A week after smashing the Eels on the same turf, the Dragons let the eighth-placed Eels triumph 25-12 and then they just didn't have the muscle against a powerful Broncos pack the week after, to be bundled out of the premiership race.

Hold Your Head High… Jamie Soward (27 try assist, 19 line-break assists), although a little quiet in the first week of the finals, still had a tremendous year. He finished third in the Dally M Medal votes and rightfully was named Five-eighth of the Year.

Props Michael Weyman and Justin Poore (110 metres gained each) earned Origin jerseys and Brett Morris was the competition’s leading try scorer and was rewarded with a berth in the Kangaroos’ train-on squad. Wendell Sailor (134 metres, 97 tackle breaks) was great theatre and still had the skill to back up his talk while the likes of Darius Boyd (138 metres, 134 tackle breaks) and Ben Creagh (57 tackle breaks, 26 offloads) had some good moments.

Coach Wayne Bennett says… “I’ve been pleased with what they’ve done. The only thing I promised when I came to St George Illawarra was consistency and I think they’ve done that pretty well.

“I made no other promises to the players or anybody and, on that basis; I think we’ve achieved a fair bit this year. Every year’s different and I don’t want to look ahead to next year. There’ll be a lot of different scenarios that will get thrown up. I don’t think we’ve got a major problem, we just lost a bit of form at the wrong time of the season and a bit of confidence.”

Conclusion… No-one predicted the Dragons to do as well as they did in the regular season and in the end they pretty much lived up to initial expectation. Most thought they'd sneak into the finals and perhaps be a nuisance but instead they stormed into the finals… but then just made up the numbers. There is plenty to like about their year but, if you’re a fan, also plenty to dwell on for a while yet.