2010 SEASON REVIEW: St George Illawarra Dragons

Regular Season
WINS: 17
LOSSES: 7
POSITION: 1st
HOME RECORD: 9 wins, 3 losses (=1st)
AWAY RECORD: 8 wins, 4 losses (=1st)

Finals
Won 28-0 v Sea Eagles in Week One, won 13-12 v Wests Tigers in Week Three, won 32-8 v Roosters in Grand Final to finish premiers.

BEST WINNING STREAK: 5 (rounds 25-Grand Final)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 2 (rounds 20-21)
PLAYERS USED: 28
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Yet to be announced
TRIES SCORED (After 26 rounds): 90 (7th)
TRIES CONCEDED (After 26 rounds): 52 (fewest)

What will the media write about now? The St George Illawarra Dragons expunged the chokers tag from the rugby league vernacular by blitzing the Sydney Roosters 32-8 in the grand final to claim their first premiership. In their twelfth season as a club the Dragons grabbed the glory – but it had been a 29-season wait for Illawarra fans and a 32-season wait for those on the St George side of the joint venture, making it a very emotional win indeed.

Tears flowed in the sheds and the stands as super coach Wayne Bennett delivered a title, his seventh, and the first at a club other than Brisbane. Does it make him the best ever? A debate for another day perhaps, but one would have to think the numbers tell the story.

The Dragons earned their second consecutive minor premiership but unlike last year’s inglorious exit, this time they went all the way and let in just 20 points in three finals games, none in any second half.

One gets the feeling they’ll be celebrating at Kogarah and down the entire Illawarra and south coast for a long time to come...

Where They Excelled… The Dragons were brilliantly consistent but it was their defence that once again was the cornerstone of this season. The side conceded just 299 points in the regular season – 319 for the entire season including finals. This worked out to be just 11.8 points a match over 27 games in a gruelling competition.

They minimised errors all season too and scored more tries from dummy-half than other teams. Plus, their left-side attack of Matt Cooper, Ben Creagh and Brett Morris was again lethal. They also showed versatility – in the grand final they did all of the damage on the right side!

Where They Struggled… Some wags suggested the team struggled in attack because they ranked seventh in tries scored. Now it is obviously true other teams scored more points and were more dangerous but those sides couldn’t back it up with defence like the Dragons.

The only actual struggle for the Dragons was the weight of expectation and the outsiders waiting for them to fail. They spent countless energy telling all and sundry the chokers talk didn’t bother them, but after winning the big one a few members let the cat out of the bag – it hurt, it cut deep, and they were pumped to lay it all to rest.

Missing In Action… The Dragons were blessed in the injury stakes, as premiers often are. Only Dan Hunt was missing from the grand final side and he hadn’t played since early in the season when his Achilles tendon snapped in the warm up before Round 11.

Consistency in the Dragons’ line-up helped them play superbly throughout the year.

Turning Point… When Jamie Soward drilled a calm field goal with seven minutes left in the qualifying final against Wests Tigers and the Dragons held on to make the big one you finally got the sense they had come of age.

They had been brilliant at stages all year but that field goal was like a dagger in the heart of the doubters and gave them that extra sense of belief they had been craving.

When they found themselves down at halftime of the grand final they weren’t fazed. They knew they could come back, they’d done it before, and sure enough they scored 26 unanswered points to hoist the trophy.

Best Games… Winning a grand final 32-8 has to qualify here. Despite having limited possession in the first half after dropping plenty of football, the Dragons trailed just 8-6 thanks to their amazing defence.

The second-half 26-0 blitz was brilliant and ensured the expensive rings will adorn the Red V fingers for life.

The week before the Dragons also came from behind to beat the Wests Tigers. Down 12-6 at the break the Dragons pushed back to win 13-12, proving they could get over the line with the pressure applied.

Other highlight games in the season including a 38-24 win over Souths with five players rested – the Bunnies could have made the finals with a win but the young Dragons hammered them.

A 19-12 win over the Roosters at the SCG in Round 22 was a cracker as it came when the Roosters were flying and the Dragons had lost two in a row.

Worst Games… Two losses to the Raiders hurt. The first one came at home but had the excuse of being around the rep season. The second one was their heaviest defeat of the year in Round 24 at Canberra Stadium. The Raiders exploded in the second half to win 32-16 with some spectacular long-range tries cracking the Dragons’ renowned defence.

The only other loss of any real significance was a 24-6 defeat to Manly at Brookvale; but once again it was in rep season.

Hold Your Head High… The entire Dragons squad played their part in 2010. Darius Boyd was awesome and barely missed out on a Dally M Medal but did get a RLPA Players Player award and won the Clive Churchill Medal on grand final day. Ben Creagh had a stormer of a year, as did Michael Weyman. Dean Young capped the end of the season results with selection in the Australian squad, joining Boyd and Brett Morris.

Nathan Fien, Jeremy Smith and Jason Nightingale made the Kiwi team. Morris scored 20 tries and added 23 line-breaks; Nightingale had 16 tries and 25 line-breaks. The halves in Ben Hornby and Jamie Soward played their part… seriously they didn’t have a bad player.

Coach Wayne Bennett says… “The premiership is huge for the club. You can tell by the reaction of the fans out there, it’s been a long time coming for them. This team’s earned it and they’ve deserved it. The hairs on the back of the neck stood up when I walked onto the field. It was great, a job done and everyone was appreciative.”

Conclusion… After two extremely consistent years of grinding football the Dragons finally got what they deserved – a premiership. The side received the keys to the city of Wollongong as part of the celebrations – but ‘Saint’ Wayne Bennett deserves the keys to heaven after proving his worth at a new club.

The side loses some forward strength in Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan and Jarrod Saffy next season but if the replacements buy into the Bennett style there is no reason this team can’t go back-to-back.