Mid-Season Review: St George Illawarra Dragons

Position after 13 rounds: 1st
Wins: 10
Losses: 3
Byes: 0
Points: 20
Differential: 148


Love ’em or hate ’em the Dragons are the team to beat at the halfway point of the season.  Whether you admire their systematic style of football or whether it bores you, the fact is it works – and it has them in the box seat for a second straight minor premiership.

And is it really fair to call the left-side combination of Matt Cooper and Brett Morris boring? You might know the ball is going there but opposition teams still can’t seem to contain it.

Currently running first without having a bye, the side deserves premiership favouritism. Of course, the back half of the year will be where we find out if demons exist in the Dragons’ psyche. Rest assured they’ll be trying to peak at the right time this season but the big matches bring big pressure and they are yet to prove themselves under the heat lamp.

The talk of Mark Gasnier rejoining the club lingers – and if they do get him back in a Red V jersey, they’ll have another attacking weapon to bank on. Gasnier linking up with Jason Nightingale on the right and Cooper still with Morris on the left… it’s a pretty scary thought for those who aren’t Dragons fans.

Are Things Going to Plan?
You would have to say so. Wayne Bennett is keeping his side’s attack pretty contained but whispers are there is more to come in the back half of the year.

For a side hiding a few aces they are still putting plenty of points on, with an average of more than 22 each week. The defence is once again phenomenal, conceding fewer points than any other side at 11 a game, despite playing more games than every other team. They also have more try-savers, proving the desire and ability to scramble when the need arises. They have the least amount of errors in the NRL, are making more running metres per match than most other sides, and punching out the most kick metres each week.

The accuracy of their long kicks is a little concerning, but while their kick-chase remains strong, it should be fine.

Injury Front… Two Dragons are out long-term in Peni Tagive and Dan Hunt, while others have missed games here and there.

Nathan Fien was looking great in Round 1 before snapping his leg but remarkably he may return in coming weeks; Hunt was one of the Dragons’ most consistent performers until his Achilles snapped like a twig in the warm-up before the shock loss to Canberra in Round 11.

Matt Cooper, Neville Costigan, Nick Emmett, Matt Prior, Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith have also missed games, with Emmett and Smith the only two out right now – although they’re due back soon.

If Only… The representative season wasn’t affecting the side. Losses against Manly and Canberra came with players either backing up or missing thanks to the Test Match, City-Country and Origin I, so perhaps things would have been different with a fresh and full complement of players.

The loss to Melbourne also came before the salary cap scandal broke, which meant the Storm players had something to play for. But while the side could be undefeated (with a little tweaks) you get the feeling they prefer that they aren’t, as it keeps the heat off them just a little bit.

Who’s Flying…
Darius Boyd is on fire at fullback, which is reflected on the Dally M leader board where he is on top. Making a stunning 145 metres a match it is actually his ball-playing that has excelled this season.

With 12 line-break assists (one ahead of Johnathan Thurston to lead the NRL) and 11 try assists, the Queensland representative has blossomed into a wonderful player who gives the Dragons another attacking dimension.

Brett Morris and his 12 tries has been entertaining, and Matt Cooper went through a great stretch of form to get a jersey for Origin I, form he continued last weekend against the Warriors.

Ben Creagh is also penetrating often on the left edge and Michael Weyman keeps rolling forward.

Needs to Lift… There really isn’t a Dragons player who is struggling. Jamie Soward isn’t anywhere near as dominant as he was last season but he is still in good form and as a unit they look great.

If anyone needs to lift for the back half of the year it is the fringe forwards who must cover for Hunt’s injury. The likes of Jon Green, Michael Greenfield, Trent Merrin, Matt Prior, Jarrad Saffy and Ricky Thorby have all been good so far but they must ‘maintain the rage’ for the Dragons to continue leading the way.

Fullback Darius Boyd Tells NRL.com…
“We are going pretty good but we know it’s early days and we must win where it counts. We are a year older and wiser and have been under Wayne longer, so we are very confident we are in a good position going forward. But we certainly won’t be getting ahead of ourselves.”

Predicted Finish…
Top two should certainly be the goal at this point – and if Mark Gasnier joins the side they should be expecting nothing less.

Under-20s…
Struggling at the halfway point but with two byes to come, Arian Lam’s team have a chance to push up into the finals if they can finally put two wins together.

After starting the year without Beau Henry and facing a massive injury toll, the Dragons are a dark horse side in the back half but are well behind the eight ball in 14th position.

If they can’t get some wins soon, it will be too late. They need to lift their attack to match their reasonable defence.