Dragons' mid-season review
It's hard to recall an NRL side's season going from bad to excellent to bad again so quickly but that's the situation the Dragons are in now.
Ladder position: 13th.
Ladder position: 13th.
Overview: Pre-season the Dragons were getting lambasted over their perceived poor recruitment and coach Steve Price was under huge pressure and widely tipped to be the first clipboard holder shown the door in 2014.
By the end of Round 3 the doubts had vanished, Price's job looked safe, and the ladder-leading Dragons had three wins from three starts to be one of just two unbeaten clubs at that point, along with the Storm.
Fast forward a couple of months and the side has lost seven of its past nine games, has plunged to 13th on the ladder, Price has been moved on in favour of 2013 Illawarra Cutters coach Paul McGregor (although not the first coach axed in 2014), and the team's hopes of featuring in September are dwindling fast.
Positives: There hasn't been too much to write home about for the Dragons in 2014 but the early performances of high-profile Melbourne recruit Gareth Widdop showed he wouldn't be overawed by the step up in responsibility and was capable of being a match-winner in his own right without the 'Big Three' of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith around. He's had a rough couple of months playing behind a beaten forward pack with no fewer than four different halves partners but if the side can get the engine room right there is no doubt Widdop can provide plenty of spark off the back of that.
Origin forward Trent Merrin has been his usual tireless self but hasn't been getting enough help.
Interim coach Paul McGregor has only had two weeks to get his bearings but his first post-match press conference highlighted the honest, straight-up, no-nonsense approach he'll bring to team management and if he can drag a few players out of their comfort zones and put his stamp on the side he could boost the club over the medium term.
Negatives: Where to start? Seemingly poor recruitment and retention over a couple of seasons seem to have left the side lacking a bit of starch in the forwards. New high-profile playmaking recruit Benji Marshall looked rusty, to put it nicely, in his first two outings before cutting loose against the Sharks. When your side's going bad enough to move the coach along mid-season it's never a good sign. Possibly the biggest negative is, it's really tough to see how things are going to improve any time soon. On paper they have one of the toughest draws of any side and after their walkover home match against fellow strugglers Cronulla the Dragons face tough road trips to Penrith and the Gold Coast before hosting a trio of quality sides in the Storm, Cowboys and Sea Eagles. They'll probably need to win three of those five to remain in contention for 2014, and on current form that looks beyond them.
Biggest Moment: Brett Morris's absurdly acrobatic, upside-down grounding just inside the touch-in-goal line from a Widdop chip at Cronulla in Round 3 will be on the end-of-season highlight reels. It also came in a tight 14-12 win that took the side to the top of the ladder after three rounds.
NRL.com prediction: Likely results on the Ladder Predictor leave the Red V with a dismal 24 competition points after 26 rounds, which will see them consigned to the bottom four teams.