Widdop draws positives from inconsistent season
After losing coach Steve Price and club favourite Brett Morris off the back of an inconsistent 2014 season, St George Illawarra can only improve in 2015 according to five-eighth Gareth Widdop.
The Dragons finished just one win outside of the top eight last season, despite going through a horror run where they lost seven times in eight games.
Having just recommenced training following an extended break after England's Four Nations campaign, Widdop is confident his side can do a job with key players Ben Creagh, Josh Dugan, Benji Marshall, Mitch Rein and Trent Merrin primed and ready for the season ahead.
"We started [last season] well and then we dropped off and then we had another good patch and dropped off again at the end of the season which is disappointing, but in saying that we almost made the finals," Widdop said.
"I think this year we have to be a lot more consistent. We've had a full pre-season together now so hopefully that'll hold us in good stead.
"It was quite a disruptive year last year and it's always hard, no matter what team you play for, for a coach to be moved on halfway through the season so hopefully we'll have no interruptions throughout the year."
The reality for the Dragons is that they haven't made the finals for the past three seasons, a fact not lost on Widdop.
Despite critics questioning the quality of coach Paul McGregor's recent signings, the rookie mentor has brought in a host of veteran players to bolster his inexperienced team as he looks to avert a fourth consecutive year without finals football.
Widdop said any external criticisms of the club's recruitment drive were "irrelevant".
"You can't look at the players coming in as failures or has-beens," he said.
"They have a lot of experience and the team has been lacking that in the last year or two, so I think it's a positive having these experienced guys come to the club and play in such a young team."
Dragons prop Mike Cooper agreed with his fellow countryman, especially when it came to former grand finalists and supposed 'has-beens' George Rose, Heath L'Estrange, Kris Keating and Dane Nielsen.
"We had a very young team last year and already I think the new senior guys have bought in a lot of impact in terms of the talk out on the field, I can always hear them chirping up and talking which is good and what we need," Cooper told NRL.com.
"Any experience you can get, especially from players who have won the competition, can only add value to us."
Much like Widdop, Cooper only began training after Christmas and said even when he was visiting family back in England he was receiving positive feedback about his club's pre-season progress.
"I have every faith in 'Mary' and the coaching staff and all the players we have brought in this year. There has been a big change here and we have been working hard and going in the right direction which is all you can ask for really," he said.
"As soon as I got back they were saying how much they were enjoying training and the feedback from the players when I wasn't here was great. It's been hard, don’t get me wrong but we have all bought into it and we want to get the Dragons back to where they belong in the league."