Anthony Griffin deserves credit for what he has done to turn St George Illawarra around this season.
To be totally honest, I didn’t expect it.
At the start of the year when asked who would be my prediction to be the 2021 wooden spooners, I nominated the Dragons.
It goes to show you what a bad judge I am sometimes. You have to hand it to the Dragons, they are playing really well.
I’m actually enjoying watching the Dragons play footy and I didn’t think I would ever say that.
Griffin has really turned the club around and they’re playing totally different footy to what we’ve come to expect from them the last couple of years.
He has the players relaxed. You can see with some clubs – like Brisbane for example – there is so much tension in the club and it shows on game day.
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Their heads drop faster, they don’t have confidence to play what is in front of them and in the end they just stick rigidly to their structure.
Something that has emerged in the first five weeks of the Telstra Premiership is that the teams who are willing to play a bit of football and play what is in front them rather than stick just to their structure are the ones having success.
Penrith are a great example of that and so too are the Titans.
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The players have free rein to just play it as they see it and you can see it in the way they go about their business that the players are embracing that style.
At the Dragons it seems a bonding session over a few beers helped break the ice with the players and got them to relax.
One of the players said they’d never had that before and I thought ‘wow you guys have been missing out.’ It’s good to have a bit of old-school back in rugby league.
Griffin has brought back his own past and reunited his three former Broncos under 20s players in Ben Hunt, Corey Norman and Andrew McCullough.
With Josh McGuire joining the Dragons this week, that will be four ex-Broncos at the club.
All of them have had their critics in recent years, but certainly McCullough, Norman and Hunt seem to be playing good footy under Griffin again.
What stands out to me at the Dragons has been their defence. They are just in your face and jamming blokes.
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Wayne Bennett was always big on defence. All the best coaches are. The last couple of weeks the Dragons just seem to frustrate the opposition out of the game.
To do that last week to the Eels, out there at Parramatta, was a huge statement.
The Dragons were simply relentless and Griffin has got them fired up to just go out and beat teams with their defence.
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When Griffin’s time ended at Penrith there were questions about how he would go if given another chance in the NRL.
He almost got to a grand final with the Broncos and had the Panthers on the right track when he was sacked in 2018.
Both his former clubs played in grand finals soon after Griffin left so it says something about what he can build at a football club, it just remains to be seen if he can take a team all the way.
I’m actually enjoying watching the Dragons play, I didn’t think I'd ever say that.
The big question now for the Dragons is that we’ve seen them start a season like this many times before.
They have been known to start well and then drop away during the season so this will be interesting.
This will be a new test for Griffin. Can he keep them up and firing? That’ll be his big challenge.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.