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Dragons caught in a vicious cycle

Ben Hornby and the Dragons fans in happier times. (AAP Image/Actionphotographics, Renee McKay)
Expert
15th February, 2013
39

St George Illawarra have got themselves into a vicious cycle. In the last 24 months they have lost some great players and have not been able to attract anyone of equal quality or profile.

Presumably they don’t want to play for Steven Price, a man of such meagre repute, that most mistook his appointment for that of the legendary Queensland front rower.

Even Dragons fans were surprised that the assistant coach who used to run water bottles on game day was elevated to the top job at one of the most high-profile clubs in the competition.

I guess the club thought that some of the Wayne Bennett magic might have rubbed off on Price in the period that he rode shotgun.

I think this was naïve in the extreme. While he may have been exposed to Benny’s game plans, the modern coach is foremost a man manager and motivator. Price might be a good bloke but he does not strike me as someone who would have great presence in the dressing room.

More than ever players are attracted to big name coaches who they believe can develop them and pull them along to premiership glory.

The top coaches have the added benefit of having a loyal followership from their previous clubs. Look at the players who have followed Wayne Bennett and Des Hasler in their respective moves.

With a lowly rated coach the Dragons have missed out on a number of potential signings and their player list for 2013 looks weaker than it has for two decades.

However, this week we see the flow-on effects that have created what I describe as a vicious cycle. Craig Bellamy, the most successful coach in the NRL in the last decade, turned down an offer from the Dragons, and part of his reasoning was the lack of a quality half-back and the questionable forward pack.

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This has flipped the equation on its head. It has generally been understood that coaches build teams rather than look for ready-made lists. I think Bellamy’s underlying point is that success has become a habit for him, and he does not want to risk that with a deteriorating player roster such as the one at the Dragons.

All this proves how badly the Dragons have been mismanaged since the Premiership in 2010. In the following two years the club has not made a single high-profile signing and has failed to rejuvenated an ageing roster.

Peter Doust and his recruitment team had probably become complacent, because in both the Brown and Bennett eras, the Dragons were spoilt for talent. As the saying goes, if you stand still you go backwards.

From premiers in 2010, the Dragons are now being talked about as wooden spoon contenders. St George Illawarra now has an inexperienced coach whose confidence has no doubt been dented by the knowledge that he is not seen as a long-term option.

The Dragons can’t attract top players because those players want to run out for a top coach. But the club can’t attract a top coach because of their weak roster.

It’s a vicious cycle that Peter Doust will have to move quickly to arrest. It seems he has lost the cheque book but he had better find it fast. The Dragons must have more leeway on the salary cap than most clubs at the moment and it surprises me to hear they have not been actively courting someone like Jonathan Thurston.

He could be just the man to break the cycle.