Sterling Gold: New Dragons era begins now
I have always had the utmost respect for John Monie for having the courage and confidence to follow in the wake of a legend.
In 1984 the rookie coach took over the top job at Parramatta after Jack Gibson had steered the Eels to three straight premiership titles.
Such a decision can be "no win" for a coach, in that if the ultimate success is not again achieved then the new man is deemed to have "failed".
Of course that is completely unfair and misguided, but is the brutal by-product of being a first-grade coach.
Fans especially become quickly used to success and the amount of expectation is commensurate with their level of enjoyment.
Next season Steve Price will be the man under the microscope when he takes over from the modern master Wayne Bennett at St George Illawarra.
Despite being unable to successfully defend their title this year, the club enjoyed enormous success under Bennett during his three-year reign, including two minor premierships and a drought-breaking first-grade crown.
They are huge boots to fill, but Price does have the advantage of an already intimate knowledge of both the club and players. The best coaches, like Bennett, also leave an organisation in better shape than it was in when they first arrived, so Price also knows that the correct protocols, processes and facilities are already in place.
But although he has the benefit of these advantages, he is still faced by an enormous challenge in keeping the joint venture in its' lofty position in the NRL.
The reigning premiers produced an heroic performance against Brisbane last Saturday night but the cold, hard fact is the Dragons won just four of their last 15 games.
Many theories have been put forward for their poor run home and I'm sure that their heavy representative workload and the target they carried as current champions were significant factors.
However I also believe their style of play over an extended period resulted in a tiring football team over the closing months.
There has been no better team than the Dragons in grinding the opposition into submission, but to consistently do so requires vast reserves of physical and mental toughness which the players have displayed in spades.
I believe there is a cumulative fatigue factor on both mind and body in replicating such an intense effort week to week, season to season.
In building up such an impressive win rate I can't recall too many "easy" victories for St George Illawarra where such a lead had been established that the players could coast their way to victory. Even those scorelines with bigger margins tended to be as a result of a flurry of late points after an arm wrestle had ensued for the majority of the contest.
The team boasted a rock solid defensive base but over time the balance with their attack became somewhat lopsided.
Coming into the weekend, the team had conceded fewer points than the Warriors, Tigers and Broncos but had also scored fewer points than any of the five remaining contenders. This would indicate that they were involved in matches that were lower scoring, tighter affairs throughout the season.
Eventually opposition teams believed that if they could match the Dragons' forwards in the middle third and then cope with their persistent left-side raids, they were well on the way to victory. In recent weeks I believe the better teams in the competition were able to do exactly that.
The Saints became particularly reliant on sweeping plays to the left and were always going to score tries in that fashion because of the talent and execution involved, which was demonstrated late in the clash with the Broncos.
It just became a bit too predictable.
Melbourne have employed a similar game plan to St George Illawarra, but the big difference is Cameron Smith.
The outstanding rake maintains constant pressure on the opposition defence because every time he picks the ball up his vision and passing ability makes any number of his forwards an imminent threat. By keeping the focus of the defence on the many options Smith can choose from, the heat is kept off Cooper Cronk, Gareth Widdop and Billy Slater, which gives them more space to work in when the ball does come their way.
Dragons hooker Mitch Rein is a fine young prospect who would be well served in doing plenty of video study of the current Australian hooker.
The other avenue that I believe Steve Price could look to exploit is the side's second-phase play.
I was not surprised that the Dragons' crucial try to spark the comeback against the Broncos was a result of an offload from Michael Weyman to Adam Cuthbertson.
I've always felt that they played their best football when paying more attention to keeping the ball alive as Weyman did early in the contest against the Broncos.
Throw the talented Trent Merrin into the mix and the Dragons have some big, skilful men who may have been under-utilised in this area.
It's an exciting but difficult challenge faced by Steve Price, but the fact that he was prepared to step in after the great man shows that he has the necessary drive and character to do well.
I hope that he is encouraged by the fact that John Monie went onto become a successful career coach who won a premiership title just three years into his first tenure.