Dragons spots up for grabs: Creagh
St George Illawarra captain Ben Creagh says the amount of talent the club has fighting for spots right now has him very excited ahead of 2015 – with arguably the two halves the only settled spots in the entire roster.
Internationals Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop will be the club's starting playmakers, Kiwi winger Jason Nightingale is settled on the right wing and club captain Creagh will start in the front row; almost every other spot is still open, according to Creagh.
The rest of the outside backs are a mystery, with Origin centre Josh Dugan a chance of playing either centre or fullback and a host of three quarters jostling for the remaining spots. The recruitment of several big forwards also means a new-look pack is likely for the Red V in 2015.
"It's pretty exciting to tell you the truth. Having a look around at the outside backs we've got and the halves we've got and the way they were playing towards the end of the season, the combinations they'd put together, it's exciting for me as a teammate and fans should be excited too because there's some talent there," Creagh told NRL.com.
"Pete Mata'utia's training the house down at the moment, he's proven and tried in first grade which is great for us, we've got Dane Nielsen who's come into the team, he's got first grade experience and didn't get an opportunity over at the Warriors but he's been at the Storm and knows what it takes to play first grade.
"Guys like [19-year-old Junior Kangaroos centre] Euan Aiten, some of the guys from the 20s, Charly Runciman is still there, Kiti Glymen – I could go through all the backs.
"It's exciting the talent we've got there, the young guys who are just champing at the bit to play first grade. The Dragons left wing spot's open now which it hasn't been for a long time and there's guys at training fighting for that spot every day and that healthy competition is great for the team."
Creagh also ran his eye over the new-look forward pack, conceding that much of the criticism directed at the Dragons pack throughout 2014 was warranted.
"There's a bit of a change to the forwards this year, especially with the size of the guys we've had come in," he said.
"I think the last few years, some of the recruitment the club's done, they've gone for some leaner front rowers. But as the game's evolved over the past 18 months it's the bigger forwards, the 110-120 kilo front rowers that are really making an impact and changing how the game's played so the club's realised that and bought in that way.
"Rulon [Nutira] and Rory [O'Brien] are going great at the moment, they're two guys that have been playing reserve grade for a couple of years now. They're still only young but they've never been given the opportunity to have a pre-season or train with the top squad so both of those guys are taking the opportunity at the moment."
He said the changes the pair had made to their body shape in their first six weeks of training with the top squad had been amazing, and highlighted their commitment to transitioning into the NRL.
"I'm sure they'll get an opportunity in a couple of trial matches early in the year and I'm sure you'll see those guys play first grade because they're big enough, strong enough and they're definitely fit enough too so it's just getting their confidence up being able to play first grade and I'm sure they'll get their chance.
The pack will also be boosted by premiership-winning ex-Manly prop George Rose, who Creagh said would add much-needed experience.
"He's been going great... he's played over 100 first grade games, he adds a bit more experience to the pack which we were lacking last year at times and he'll be great for some of the younger guys to set an example," Creagh said.
Even hooker isn't settled despite club regular Mitch Rein having first claim to the spot, with Heath L'Estrange joining from the Roosters and Craig Garbey back training with the first grade squad.
"Mitch Rein's there at hooker with Heath L'Estrange so those two will be battling it out at hooker and Craig Garvey's back in the mix there as well. The rest of the team, as I said it's great for the club having that much competition for spots and guys all want one of those jerseys for Round 1," Creagh said.