What is the solution to the Dragons’ halfback dilemma?
I sit here writing this, having just witnessed one of the most disgraceful performances I think I’ve ever seen from my beloved Dragons.
After dominating proceedings for the first hour of play, against a Brisbane side who used up all their interchanges with 15 minutes to go, the Dragons somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
I first want to congratulate Brisbane on a gutsy, hard fought win. They were the best team by a mile.
Before I get into the negatives (there are a lot) I’ll go through some positives for St George.
Trent Merrin was outstanding. He got robbed of a try in the first half by Nathan Fien’s stupidity and was the only Dragons’ player who looked consistently dangerous throughout the game.
Most importantly, he was the only Dragon playing with confidence.
It’s a massive thing, confidence. You can tell Merrin has it because he always backs himself to get an offload away or to break a tackle.
Even when it doesn’t come off, it doesn’t shake his confidence.
There were a few other positives. Leeson Ah Mau was great. So too were Mick Weyman (apart from his missed tackle on Reed – that was a shocker), Dan Hunt and Matt Prior.
The only thing that needs improvement as far as they’re concerned is offloads, because at the moment, Merrin is the only player promoting second phase play.
Brett Morris had his moments, although he should have backed himself in a foot race against Justin Hodges in the 35th minute.
Nightingale too was solid except for that one mistake he made at the back which cost us a try.
That’s about where the positives end.
As for the negatives? Nathan Fien, Nathan Fien and Nathan Fien.
I maintain that Jamie Soward still has what it takes to perform as a first grade half or five eighth.
His 40/20 kick in the first half is proof of that. The same cannot be said about Fien.
Nathan Fien is not, nor has he ever been, a first grade halfback. He is a playmaker, yes.
As a dummy half with a good kicking game, he has the skill set to cover as a half or five eighth if someone gets injured during a match. He does not possess the skills to hold either of those positions permanently.
Before the season started, many predicted that the Fien-halfback experiment would not be a success (myself included).
Having shown no signs of stepping up to this role in the first two games (or Charity Shield), I think it’s safe to say that the Fien-halfback experiment has failed.
So with this in mind, who is the answer to the Dragons halfback conundrum?
From all reports this kid knows how to play. He topped try-assists in the U20s last year with the team who ran last (Manly).
Obviously question marks exist over his ability to handle the physicality of NRL-level football, which is probably why Steve Price wants him playing NSW Cup so that he can adjust to tackling against men.
However, the way Fien tackled (or didn’t tackle) tonight, I doubt Drinkwater would be any worse.
And even if he is, at least he’ll become a better player for the experience. Drinkwater is young, fresh and enthusiastic. Bring him in already, Price.
Chase Stanley (Soward to halfback)
A left-field solution, that’s for sure. If he was picked at five-eighth it would not be a permanent thing but just until Price feels Drinkwater is ready.
He would be a running five eighth. Having a halves partner who runs the ball would allow Soward more time to direct the team, kick and create tries.
Putting Stanley in would also allow the Dragons to used Dan Vidot at right centre.
The Dragons are sorely lacking in size out wide. Vidot has bulked up in the off season – he could really help in that department.
Evander Cummins (Soward to halfback)
The Dragons have HUGE wraps on this kid. From all reports he has speed to burn. I’m talking Brett Morris speed.
I’ll be honest, I watched him play once in the U20s Origin game. He didn’t get the ball much, but when he did he was impressive.
This kid will play first grade at some stage this year (unless Price is completely incompetent), and with Beale having a mortgage on the fullback jersey, I don’t think Cummins would look out of place at five eighth.
Josh Dugan (Soward to halfback)
If rumours are to be believed, the Dragons are Dugan’s most likely destination if he is to remain in the NRL.
I know he’s not a five eighth (although he has played there before with mixed success), but with the way the modern game is, fullbacks are required to be proficient ball players.
Dugan also has a good (better than Fien) kicking game, which would take pressure off Soward.
It’s a long shot though – we need to sign him first!
Stranger things have happened. I remember thinking towards the end of last year, “surely no one could do a worse job than Hornby “.
Well, I was wrong. Fien is doing a worse job than Hornby.
If nothing else, at least the Dragons would have a good leader on the park (feel free to prove me wrong on that one, Ben Creagh).
So what do you think fellow Roarers? What is the answer to the Dragons’ halfback problem?