St George Illawarra Dragons season preview
Dragons fans will be hoping for a much improved effort in 2017 after their club won just two games away from home and finished a disappointing 11th last season. Benji Marshall has left the club, as has Mike Cooper and long-time rake Mitch Rein, meaning it'll be somewhat of a new-look Red V in 2017. With the announcement of a big contract to Ben Hunt for 2018, this season threatens to be a transitional one for the Dragons, but their massive supporter base will expect much better results.
Gains and losses
Gains: Josh Kerr (Storm), Nene Macdonald (Titans), Cameron McInnes (Rabbitohs), Shaun Nona (Illawarra Cutters), Paul Vaughan (Raiders).
Losses: Mike Cooper (Warrington), Sebastine Ikahihifo (Huddersfield), Ben Creagh (retirement), Benji Marshall (Broncos), Dylan Farrell (retirement), Tom Carr (Bulldogs), Mitch Rein (Panthers), Dunamis Lui (Raiders), Adam Quinlan (Hull KR).
Cameron McInnes and Paul Vaughan are big inclusions for the Dragons and should provide plenty of workrate and energy to the Dragons pack.
What we know
The Dragons' game plan has been based on defence in recent years but their attack has failed to fire, providing plenty of frustration for players and fans alike. They registered only 58 tries last season and scored just 36 points more than wooden spooners Newcastle who won just a single game all season. It is a concern and something they are desperately looking to improve, with Gareth Widdop feeling the pressure to deliver in the attacking third of the field. The Dragons will be looking to get Josh Dugan more involved and hoping they can find a solution to their halves dilemma with Josh McCrone and Jai Field battling for the vacant Benji Marshall spot.
Matt Dufty is the diminutive fullback that has been carving up the under 20s for a few years and scoring tries for fun, while Jai Field announced himself with a length-of-the-field special against Manly at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines. Both are speedy and exciting players, but look like they'll have to wait their turn behind established backline stars such as Josh Dugan, Jason Nightingale and Euan Atiken.
The season-ending injury to Drew Hutchison has certainly delivered a significant blow to the Dragons, with McCrone and Field left to fight for the vacant halves position alongside Widdop. The Red V have a steady supply of forwards with the addition of Vaughn a shrewd investment. The likes of Joel Thompson, Frizell and de Bellin form a great base in the engine room, with Tariq Sims, Russel Packer and a host of big men providing plenty of starch over the course of a long season. However they are a little light on in the playmaking roles and could be caught short if they have some injuries in their outside backs.
Jack de Bellin averages more than 59 Fantasy points per game and is a superstar Fantasy option. At a hefty $561,000 he isn't cheap, but de Bellin gets through a tonne of work and will be looking to carry the Dragons forward pack again this year. Tyson Frizell ($438,000) is another player that really came to prominence last season, averaging over 46 points and earning NSW and Australian jerseys, despite an ongoing back complaint. In the backs, Euan Aitken ($410,000) is one of the best centre options in Fantasy, while Josh Dugan ($410,000) has the potential to rack up big scores if he keeps the No. 1 on his back.
It looks on the surface like the Dragons are in for another tough season, but there is still potential for them to push for a finals berth if things go their way. Last season the Dragons were the fifth-biggest metre-eating club across the NRL (1551.1 metres per game) and also produced the fifth-most tackle breaks (28.3 per game). If they can continue that and find a more consistent attack, they'll have more than enough opportunities to score points. The quicker they can get a settled spine, the better their chance of success will be, but we still think they will fall short of finals football.