5 burning questions: Dragons
After a 2014 that started brightly then crashed and burned, the Dragons finished the year with a new coach and new star playmaker. Both appointments raise questions ahead of 2015.
1. Is participation in the World Club Series the right preparation?
Overlooking the fact that the Dragons came 11th in 2014, does their participation in the expanded World Club Series in England make their task of getting the most out of 2015 even more challenging? Great strides were made by the Dragons under the tutelage of Paul McGregor in the second half of the season but with a packed pre-season schedule as is a trip to the UK for one game may place unnecessary strain ahead of a – hopefully for Dragons fans – long season. With murmurings around the futures of Brett Morris, Trent Merrin and Gerard Beale at Kogarah/Wollongong, McGregor is yet to finalise his squad for 2015 and may only have the Charity Shield and the World Club Series to see his best 17 in action. Such an excursion may bring the squad together but history shows a trip to the northern hemisphere weeks out from the start of the season can take quite a toll on teams.
2. Will Mary shed players from the backline to bolster the forward pack?
It is no secret McGregor, who will be readying himself for his first crack at a full NRL season as head coach, is chasing a bigger forward pack. They missed Trent Merrin and Tyson Frizell greatly at times during the 2014 season, and their lack of go-forward from the engine room was a major issue. It came as no surprise they finished in the middle of the road for most metres produced across the competition (10th). With Gerard Beale and Dylan Farrell among those rumoured to be on the lookout for other clubs, it will be an interesting proposition to see who sign and re-signs for – and departs from – the Red V in the next few weeks.
3. Will Morris and Merrin play nice or leave the nest?
Speaking of jumping ship, Origin stars Trent Merrin and Brett Morris are also among those rumoured to be looking to move on. It's no secret Brett would love to link up with twin brother Josh once again, which would probably have to be at the Bulldogs, while Merrin's preferences remain unclear. It is a precarious situation for the Dragons considering these are two of the best players at the club. It will be a crying shame for Red V fans if they do leave considering they have been fan favourites for a long time and it will only compound the loss of promising junior Jack Bird to Cronulla.
4. Eto, is it me you're looking for?
While it is yet to be confirmed by the club itself, Fijian flyer Eto Nabuli has reportedly signed with the Dragons for 2015. Discovered by Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns in his native Fiji, the winger signed with the Panthers and looked on track to make his NRL debut this year before a knee injury at the Auckland Nines cruelled his chances. The Fijian international could be a handy acquisition for the Red V, especially if Morris walks.
5. Will Benji suffer "second year" syndrome?
A revitalised Benji Marshall returned to the NRL at the Dragons last season following an unsuccessful stint at Super Rugby's Blues outfit in New Zealand. While the half was out of the game less than a year, few expected him to be the eventual success he was after some pretty lean years at the Wests Tigers. But will Benji be able to maintain it in 2015? Next to Gareth Widdop the former Kiwi captain overcame a rusty return mid-season to become one of the side's best, but will have a challenge in delivering consistent performances over the course of a 26-week season.