The Dragons will breathe fire in 2018

Charles Brandling Roar Rookie

By Charles Brandling, Charles Brandling is a Roar Rookie

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    It was only this time last year that pundits and experts predicted a cellar-dweller finish for the mighty Dragons and, to be honest, it was hard to disagree with them.

    Instead St George Illawarra burst out of the gates and raced to the top of the ladder within the first few rounds, and the red and white army made sure they didn’t book a holiday in September. However, in what has been a recent trend for the joint venture, they stumbled through an underwhelming second half of the season and finished ninth.

    Looking ahead to 2018 we have seen some very aggressive recruitment drives, with teams looking more impressive than ever. It has been widely predicted that 2018 may become a three-horse race between the Melbourne Storm, North Queensland Cowboys and Sydney Roosters. Favouritism has never really meant much, and here’s why the Dragons can raise eyebrows in 2018.

    Headlines have been dominated by player movements in 2017, and the catalyst of all of this was Ben Hunt signing a lucrative deal with the Dragons. A poor 40 minutes on the biggest stage of them all was all it took for Broncos supporters to have doubts over their star halfback.

    Gareth Widdop has been a solo superstar at the Dragons but now finally has the opportunity to combine with a player of similar stature. Attack has been the main criticism of Paul McGregor’s team, and Hunt’s creativity combined with Widdop’s strong passing and running game can cause some big upsets in 2018.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Aaron Woods’s controversial move to the Bulldogs was considered one of the coups of the year. Starting Australian front-rower, prop of the year – who wouldn’t want him at their club? Well, maybe not Bulldogs fans, because subsequently skipper and fan favourite James Graham was pushed out.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, with the Dragons swooping immediately on the tough Englishman. It’s hard to go past names like James Tedesco, Cooper Cronk or Jordan Mclean as the top signings for 2018, but I would have no problem with the suggestion that James Graham may be the most influential.

    As mentioned before, attack has been a constant problem for the Dragons, and the thing that makes James Graham such a large influence is his neat passing game. A front-rower with the ability to throw short crisp passes adds a whole new element to an attack.

    Graham leads from the front and gets in the ears of his teammates, which is what the Dragons have lacked, especially in the second half of the season. James Graham and Paul Vaughan as the starting front-row combining with Tyson Frizell making tackle-busting runs and the Dragons have a formidable forward pack.

    You are not a true rugby league fan if you are not disappointed with your team for not making the finals in any year. Once the disappointment of the ninth-place finish had subsided, Dragons fans must see 2017 as a huge step forward.

    (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

    Many players had breakout years, but none more so than Jack De Belin and Cameron McInnes. De Belin had average running metres of 146.6, a resounding improvement on his previous seasons. Strong running combined with a very tight defence led to De Belin being included in the New South Wales squad as 18th man.

    McInnes on the other hand, finished the year with the highest tackle count in the NRL, making 1,155 tackles. Another strong start to the season and Brad Fitler may be taking a very close look.

    Whether the Dragons are successful in 2018 largely depends on the success of Matt Dufty. He is young, boasts speed and evasiveness similar to Billy Slater and has crafty ball skills. If the young gun can link up with his halves smoothly and be sound in defence, then Dragons fans should get excited. Considering he is still developing, the fullback spot does present question marks and will define the Dragons season.

    It is extremely difficult to see the Dragons challenging the likes of the Roosters, Cowboys and Storm for the premiership, but I have seen weirder things happen. It might not be the year of the Dragon, but a strong recruitment drive and a year to build on may see the red and white fly high to snatch a top-four finish.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • January 10th 2018 @ 5:37am
      Jeff dustby said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:37am | ! Report

      The dragons will be top of the table

      In April

      • Roar Guru

        January 10th 2018 @ 10:12am
        Nat said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        At least they will have a shot unlike your team. You’ve never shown any support for team, player, coach or author. Get yourself a dog Jeff/Matt or is it not so super? It will love you and you don’t have to start each day with such a poor attitude.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 10:49am
          jeff dustby said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

          its called a joke. maybe you should get a sense of humour. For the record i am a fan of Parra.

          • Roar Guru

            January 10th 2018 @ 2:46pm
            Nat said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

            Salty sarcasm is a long way from wit champ. It may pass as tongue-in-cheek if it was occasional but every thread every other day?? I tell you what, I’ll work on my sense of humour if you lighten up on your derogatory one-liners.

    • January 10th 2018 @ 5:41am
      madmax said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:41am | ! Report

      When did you guys sign Matt Dufty………….to be honest he’s not the only young gun who boasts speed, evasiveness & ball skills similar to Billy Slater. There are at least 4 or 5 in the same class if not better than Duffy. The Dragons have recruited pretty well but to suggest they’re premiership specials is a bit too premature mate. All teams have improved. We’ll see who the real contenders are a third of the way thru the competition.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 9:52am
        Ken said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        If you had to ask ‘when did the Dragons sign him?’, it’s unlikely that you’ve seen enough of him to dismiss him…

        He’s a Saints junior, been one of their ‘next big things’ for a few seasons now. Was going well enough at the back-end of last year to keep Dugan out. Fast, evasive and seems to have a some playmaking skill too – a little small though so the question mark is whether he can develop enough game smarts & positioning to utilise those skills.

        Honestly no-one is yet comparing him to Slater’s class, only that he has a similar style.

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2018 @ 10:00am
          The Barry said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          Maybe confused with ex-Storm, now Auckland Blue Matt Duffie…?

          • January 10th 2018 @ 10:40am
            Ken said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

            Yeah, suppose that’s fair. Pretty similar names

        • January 11th 2018 @ 8:07am
          madmax said | January 11th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

          My bad….yeah got confused with Matt Duffie.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 10:49am
        jeff dustby said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        how can all teams improve?

        • January 10th 2018 @ 11:21am
          Peter Phelps said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:21am | ! Report

          They can’t

          Trouble is that every club recruits new players / coaches that are going to transform their team in the coming year. Trouble is, every other team has changed too.

          I think the top 3 are pretty much locked in with a few teams fighting for 4, 5 and 6 and we pretty much know who those will be. So it might be more fun predicting who the bottom 4 will be.

          My predictions

          13. Manly
          14. Knights
          15. Raiders
          16. Titans

          • January 11th 2018 @ 8:13am
            madmax said | January 11th 2018 @ 8:13am | ! Report

            Bulldogs
            Dragons
            Eels
            Knights

    • January 10th 2018 @ 8:10am
      Peter Phelps said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      The Dragons have recruited well and should make the top 8 this year fairly comfortably. I very much doubt they can make the top 4.

    • January 10th 2018 @ 8:32am
      JohnnoMcJohnno said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      Still a lot of question marks in my mind. Will Widdop combine well with Hunt? You would hope so, but then Widdop barely combined at all when Benji Marshall was half, so no guarantee there. Will Dufty improve? Again you hope so, but he had one stand out game last year after which most teams seemed to work him out. Will Graham be an asset? On paper yes, but he’s no spring chicken and we have lost Russell Packer and Joel Thompson from the forwards. Can the backline improve? You would hope so, but last season in both attack and defense the Dragons backline was close to weakest in the comp, with the only significant change the loss of Dugan.

      Based on the above they may scrape into the 8, but that woukd be about it.

    • Roar Guru

      January 10th 2018 @ 8:36am
      The Barry said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      There’s a few question marks over the Dragons signings. The author speaks to Graham’s passing game and ball playing, but that has been non-existent over the past couple of seasons. That may have been at his coach’s suggestion. He’s also showing signs of wear and tear with recurrent neck and shoulder and concussion injuries.

      He’ll always be among my favourite players and I’m disappointed to see him leave Belmore but last season he was a shadow of his former self. Hopefully he bounces back but we’ll see. Either way he’ll be a fantastic influence on some of the young(ish) Dragons forwards and may help them take their careers to the next level.

      Since signing with the Dragons everyone has been talking about Hunt’s playmaking but I think he’s more of a running half like Widdop. Widdop’s partnership with running half Marshall had its ups and downs so it’s no lay down misere to me that Hunt and Widdop will be an effective combo. Even if they are it may take some time to chime. I’m not convinced McGregor is an effective coach for halves. I don’t think he’s found an effective structure for them and Widdop seems at his best playing off the cuff rather than to a plan.

      There’s still question marks about their best 3/4 line combination and how effective they can be.

      I don’t see them as being a top four club at the moment. I think they’ll be part of the logjam for the bottom half of the eight which I think will be tighter than ever this season. I reckon 6th or so would be a great achievement for this team.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 9:35am
        BA Sports said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        Thank you The Barry, and as a Dogs supporter you would have sen him every week.

        People talk about the Graham signing with visions of the early Graham who threw for 5 or 6 line break assists a year, or the 2016 player who ran 18.6 times per game – he ran 12 times per game last year. He is playing fewer minutes, making fewer tackles, creating fewer line breaks, taking fewer hit ups and making fewer yards. The aggressive style of game he plays has taken it toll on him.

        The guy everyone throws horse dung at (Woods) has better stats across the board compared to Graham over the last 12 months before you even factor in his offload ability. Yes Graham brings his intangible – passion – but that doesn’t always put the ball over the line.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 11:24am
        Duncan Smith said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:24am | ! Report

        I hope James Graham can get back to his best, as he was from 2012-14, because The Barry is right that he was nowhere near that in 2017.

        I hope he’s given enough time to recover from the world cup, but I think a new club will invigorate him, which he needs.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 4:48pm
        Albo said | January 10th 2018 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

        I’m with you Baz. I can’t see any great improvements looming large at Kogarah this year. They have lost their consistent Dugan, Thompson & Packer, and replaced them with a couple of overly hyped types at this stage, in Hunt & Graham ? I think their spine is still a dubious proposition. McInnes is great defender but little creativity. Hunt & Widdop are hot & cold ball runners but not sure either are really game managers, and Dufty will be under a lot of defensive & high ball scrutiny. I’d be surprised if Graham offers much more than his usual passion & mentorship to his team mates in his limited time on the field. And their outside backs probably need a revamp.
        I can see the Dragons again battling out for that 8th spot.

    • Roar Guru

      January 10th 2018 @ 9:03am
      Nat said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      The Dragons should be in a strong showing this year but top 4 is a bit optimistic. I’ll be interested to see where Mary plays Widdop after his success in the WC at FB. Hunt is creative and can spot a gap but there needs to be someone there to run into it. Last season Widdop accounted for (approx) 30% of total points for the Dragons and their forwards put on a fair chunk of the remainder which begs the question about the currents backs ability to put themselves into try scoring positions. As TB points out above, Graham has been a shadow of himself with a total of 8 offloads last year. By comparison, Woods was in the 40s and nearly 40% more post contact meters. He is undoubtedly passionate but show me a blood-nut who isn’t. Top 8 possibly but more around 9-10 for mine mostly based on the strengths of the whole comp.

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