New attacking philosophy for 'rigid' Dragons
It's no secret St George Illawarra were lacklustre in attack in 2016 and on the eve of a new season, coach Paul McGregor says everything will change.
McGregor bluntly accepts the "rigid" style adopted by the club last year didn't work and didn't suit all his players, and said the club would move away from that style in 2017.
With some personnel changes in key playmaking positions and a halfback still to be decided, McGregor wants those players to play more instinctively, play what they see and to get the back-rowers more involved.
"A lot of things have changed: staff changes, roster changes," McGregor said at the launch of the annual Charity Shield match at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday ahead of the Feb 19 fixture.
"There's certainly been a different philosophy about how we're going to play. The main focus is obviously with everyone still talking about how we attacked in 2016.
"I'll be totally honest with you, we were very rigid in the way we played and we're going to go away from that and simplicity is the big thing in the way we're playing."
Only the struggling Knights scored fewer points than the Dragons last year; their 341 from 24 games at 14.2 per game was a full 100 points behind the next worst in the Roosters (443 at 18.5 per game). The numbers made it clear a change had to happen.
"The vision that we've all come up with, the shared vision with the players, the philosophy is about playing with the freedom of playing what's in front and last year our style didn't suit some of our players and certainly our approach this year is totally different to that," McGregor said.
The Dragons' biggest strength is clearly their forward pack, with the recruitment of Raiders star Paul Vaughan bolstering a pack boasting rep star Tyson Frizell, defensive powerhouse Jack De Belin, fringe NSW back-rower Tariq Sims who finished 2016 in monstrous form, club stalwart Joel Thompson, underrated prop Leeson Ah Mau and former Kiwi international Russell Packer, among others.
"We're going to play a power game with a good-sized forward pack with good experience and the freedom to play within it. That's the most important thing. We'll take away a fair bit of noise and let the boys really just concentrate on going out there and playing a lot more instinctively," McGregor said.
"We like to give our key players an opportunity, our halves to play off first receiver, off second receiver and sometimes out the back off third receiver on the long shift and have all three going together.
"We'd like to have our back-rowers more involved in the game, that's an important thing with the players in the back row that we do have. Certainly our front row, we're going to use them as big power forwards because we've got that and we'd like our nine to control our yardage and transition to there's a lot of change been happening and footy's just around the corner."
The new philosophy got the seal of approval from veteran winger Jason Nightingale.
"We're a lot hungrier - we've been craving something to buy into and I think we've got that [this season]," Nightingale said.
"We've got a couple of new additions to our squad who've been going great at training and the biggest thing is the hunger. We were disappointed in how we went last season especially, and the only way to put that behind you is to put results on the board and commit to making sure we do everything we can to win games and put ourselves in the best position to make the top eight."
The new attacking structures were already creating more space during opposed sessions at training, he added.
"Our attacking structure which has obviously been much maligned is definitely something for us to buy into and simplify in our minds so that we can be held accountable if we go outside that," he said.