WIZ: Dragons must fire or face wooden spoon

Gary Freeman Columnist

By Gary Freeman, Gary Freeman is a Roar Expert

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    Benji Marshall's coming home. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)

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    We are back to a full premiership round after all the excitement of Origin 1 and there are some big games happening this weekend with a heck of a lot at stake.

    Tonight, I’m heading to the biggie at Brookvale Oval and there is much to like about what may transpire there, but I’ll get back to that a little later.

    The game with so much on the line is down at Wollongong on Saturday night – the Dragons versus Sharks.

    The Dragons must stand up in this one or the wooden spoon will become a distinct possibility for the joint venture club. Interim coach Paul McGregor has had a week to sort out some of the major problems with his team and if they can’t beat the depleted Sharks line-up they’ll struggle to finish in front of anyone this season.

    All eyes will be on the struggling St George-Illawarra forwards, even weaker with the suspension handed to one of their better performers, Mitch Rein. But they have simply got to get the job done against Cronulla and give their backs a fighting chance of posting some points.

    I haven’t written off Benji Marshall after just two games at the Dragons but I’d advise him to take a few deep breaths and pace himself as the game goes on. Show some patience, Benji. You don’t have to do it all.
    Gareth Widdop is an extremely good player capable of running the bulk of the attack.

    I’d like to see Marshall sit back and play the role of the experienced team player. He should ditch that flick pass – it isn’t working for him now – and pick the moments to put on something clever. He hasn’t the blinding speed that was one of his trademarks at the Tigers five or so years ago but he’s still got an astute football brain and an instinct to produce something out of the box.

    The Sharks have been absolutely hammered by injuries this year and I feel sorry for them. Hardly any club could remain competitive when their dressing room is looking like a war zone. To their credit, they keep turning up with plenty of ticker and they will relish the chance to chalk up a win down at the ‘Gong. I am expecting a game of great intensity that will go right down to the wire.

    The Wizard was studying the competition table earlier this week and thought back to the start of the year. Who honestly expected the likes of Penrith, Parramatta and Wests Tigers to be in the top eight after three months of NRL action?

    Not me, that’s for sure, but it’s terrific to have some new faces in the top echelon and you can sense the excitement levels rising in these rugby league heartlands.

    All three clubs look to be climbing back to prominence with good, balanced rosters and excellent coaching.
    The Panthers smashed the Eels (minus superstar Jarryd Hayne) at their last start with young winger Josh Mansour showing everyone he is ready for Origin football. I think he richly deserves to win Blues selection next week.

    And that brings me back to Friday night’s battle at Brookvale. What a contest this will be. Aside from the cat and mouse games between coaches Geoff Toovey and Des Hasler, there are personal duels that simply cannot be missed.

    At the scrum base, we’ve got Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran up against the Bulldogs’ Origin pairing of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. Who gets the better of this tussle will win the game. There’s Justin Horo versus Tony Williams, Jamie Lyon versus Krisnan Inu and Michael Ennis versus Matt Ballin to also whet the appetite.

    If NSW warrior Anthony Watmough plays, we’ll have to salute a guy who continues to beat a never-ending battle with injuries.

    I’ll be on duty in the ABC radio commentary box and I’ve told the team I probably won’t need a seat. When you attend a game as exciting and colourful as this one, you’re on your feet more often than not.

    Gary Freeman
    Gary Freeman

    Gary 'Wiz' Freeman is one of the great halfbacks in New Zealand rugby league history. Now an outspoken and popular media personality, he joined The Roar in 2012 as an expert rugby league columnist.

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    The Crowd Says (11)

    • June 6th 2014 @ 7:48am
      Sir Jamie Lyon said | June 6th 2014 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Surely they will win this game. Either sharks Canberra or dragons will claim.the spoon well done parra three in a row would of killed them

    • June 6th 2014 @ 12:09pm
      Charles NSW said | June 6th 2014 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

      Some good comments for Benji Marshall Gary! I think the Dragons will start fixing up their problems with a much better display this weekend. It really is up to the coach and I think McGregor will show that he will work hard to improve these problems one way or the other.

    • June 6th 2014 @ 4:42pm
      George Walton said | June 6th 2014 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

      I can’t believe the whiz really typed this article.

    • June 6th 2014 @ 8:56pm
      Dallas said | June 6th 2014 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

      I don’t know how they are going so bad. When you look at there team on paper there really is no excuse – one of the best back 3s in the comp with nightingale, Morris and Dugan. A good quality half in widdop who is now partnered with benji and if he gets his shit together they could be one of the best half combos in the comp. Mitch rein is a good quality hooker. There forward pack has a lot of potential for the future, I really like Tyson frizzle and jack debellin, stockwell is a good young prop as well. Then they have some experienced forwards like creigh, merrin, hunt and joel Thompson. Creigh is a very good player at club level and merrins stats week In week out are as good as any plus his ability to do some freakish things that most forwards cannot. There only week point in my opinion Is there centers, Beale is a poor defender and does nothing with the footy, and they don’t really have a right centre, I don’t know why they wouldnt give charlee runciman a run he went alright last year.

      I think if they want to go better next year they need to recruit a good front rower of rep footy quality. A star specialist centre, although I don’t think there are any on the market at the moment. And I think they need to keep creigh on the edge, that is his best position and that’s where he really carved up when they one the comp.

    • June 7th 2014 @ 3:31am
      Devout Saint said | June 7th 2014 @ 3:31am | ! Report

      We are gone for this year. We need a complete overhaul from board, CEO, coaching and recruitment. We should start rebuilding with 2016-2017 in mind. I think we need about 7 or 8 new players.

      I actually think we need a new fullback, Dugan is a very good player, but he is not my type/style of fullback. Will Hoppoate comes off contract at the end of 2015. He would be my choice. I think fullback is his natural position.

      We need a pair of centres. I would have targeted Ferguson, I think he will be the best centre in the comp over the next 5 years, but it looks like he is going to Easts. I have only seen a little of Moga from Easts and Yeo, but they look like they could be very good prospects. They are both big and fast and have perfect builds for centres. They are both off contract at the end of this year

      I still think we need another good half to partner Widdop. I doubt we are any chance of signing Cherry when he comes off contract at the end of 2015, but he would be at the too of my list. I would also target Foran, Kelly and Seizer, who are all off contract at the end of 2015. I would really love Saints to sign Dylan Walker when he comes off contract and play him 5/8. A Walker 5/8, Cherry halfback would be my first pick.

      Yes we obviously need some good big forwards. Kasiano would be the prop I would want, but I would want to get him fit and have him lose 10 to 15 kg. I would also target Corey Oates. I think he will be a star of the game over the next 10 years. Pauli Pauli would be the other forward I would be chasing. He looks like a very good prospect too. Kassiano, Oates and Pauli Pauli would all add size and quality to our pack, they are all off contract at the end of 2015. I would also like us to sign Tariq Simms for next year. Wes Lolo has looked good from the little I have seen of him. Jack Bird made the NSW under 20’s this year. Hopefully they can develop into top first graders.

      • June 7th 2014 @ 12:27pm
        Charles NSW said | June 7th 2014 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

        I believe putting Dugan and Marshall in the centres would be the best move for the Dragons. This would really strengthen the centres and with the wingers to be one of the best around. However it depends if they can handle that and with coach McGregor as a former centre he will be able to judge that. Dugan in SOO as a centre is also what I had said. McGregor has decided to keep Marshall in as 1/2 back. Granted if he can fix the problems that Marshall had previously in that position he could adjust to be a very good 1/2 back. A lot depends on McGregor bringing what he has in shape and I think he will. I believe Dragons will beat Cronulla and if they don’t as Walter says we are in big trouble.

        • June 7th 2014 @ 1:10pm
          Devout Saint said | June 7th 2014 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

          I think Marshall will turn out to be another poor buy. The only position I would be playing him is 5/8. I have been saying for a while that I would like to see Widdop play halfback and run the team. He is technically good, but I want my halfback to be playing both sides of the field. Widdop has been stuck on the left side too much.

          I don’t know about Dugan in the centres either, it could work. 700K a season for a out of position centre is very expensive. I would have much preferred Ferguson.

          • June 8th 2014 @ 12:28pm
            Ken said | June 8th 2014 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

            What other poor buys have been made? Personally I think we should have pooled the money we spent on a couple of the back-rowers (e.g. Thompson) and bought a decent prop – but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s a poor buy.

            Widdop & Dugan are the two highest profile of the last couple of years and they have been great buys, Beale was a bit of a bust last year due to injury but he’s starting to find his feet – I don’t think we paid a great deal for him in any case. Witt’s basically on match payments, and he’s more than earned them so far when he’s been required. Williams and Drinkwater never made much impact but they were just reserve graders bought for options, there was no bidding wars or huge contracts there.

        • June 7th 2014 @ 1:37pm
          Chook-a-doodle-do said | June 7th 2014 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

          Benji is no centre,he’s a major liability in defence,basically gives em a pat on the back as they run by.

    • Roar Guru

      June 7th 2014 @ 5:32am
      Walter Penninger said | June 7th 2014 @ 5:32am | ! Report

      Tell them they are dreaming…….

      Price has already spent the salary cap and more for next year and the Dragons will need to offload players to jeep within the cap.

      As for Cronulla, if the Dragons cannot win this well, then we are gone for this year and need to start looking to next year and bring some NSW Cup player forward and blood them.

      We do not need centres we have Runciman and Mata’utia it is just that Price and now McGregor are ignoring them.

      Groat was bought for a reason and has not been used, he needs a go, what have the Dragons got to lose?

      • June 7th 2014 @ 11:52am
        Charles NSW said | June 7th 2014 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        A coach can only work with the squad he has and recommend what he would like to improve on. Early in the season the squad showed promise even though they were competing against teams that were not travelling too well themselves. I think McGregor needs to work with each position with what he has and if no one puts their hand up look to next year for replacements. It must be remembered that some players are holding their own so it is just a matter of adding to them. Players like Nightingale, Morris, Merrin, Rein, Dugan, Creagh are some in that catergory.

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