Can the Dragons keep living up to expectations?

mastermind5991 Roar Guru

By mastermind5991, mastermind5991 is a Roar Guru

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    After six rounds, the St George Illawarra Dragons remain the only undefeated team in the NRL, and their hot start can be attributed to the high expectations surrounding the club following the arrivals of recruits Ben Hunt and James Graham.

    The pair’s impact has been instant, with the club sitting atop the ladder ahead of tough clashes against the Warriors and Roosters in the next ten days.

    They have already beaten bitter rivals the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks twice, as well as the Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast Titans, Newcastle Knights and South Sydney Rabbitohs.

    The clash against the Warriors in Auckland this Friday night will be the first genuine test of the Dragons’ season, with the Kiwi club having had their undefeated start to 2018 ended by the Broncos last week.

    Prior to that, the Warriors had recorded their own best-ever start, winning their first five matches including defeating the Rabbitohs and Roosters on both sides of Australia, as well as a struggling Cowboys outfit at home in Round 5.

    Had the Auckland side beaten the Broncos, this Friday night’s clash would have seen the only two undefeated teams go head-to-head in what would have been the unlikeliest of potential grand final previews, with both teams having missed the finals in 2017.

    Instead, the Red V have a chance to open up a four-point buffer at the top of the ladder, though the Panthers and Wests Tigers do have winnable matches against the Sharks and Knights respectively later in the round.

    So, what is exactly behind the side’s best ever start to a season since the merger came into effect in 1998?

    You’d think that it’s their two big-name recruits – Hunt and Graham – who are already proving their worth and playing to the price tags attached to them.

    But there are others playing their roles, including fullback Matt Dufty, NSW representative Tyson Frizell and potential future Origin teammates Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan.

    Hunt’s partnership with captain Gareth Widdop in the halves also gives the club their most stable halves since Jamie Soward and Ben Hornby earlier this decade.

    Every player in the starting side, except Graham, has scored at least one try, highlighting the evenness.

    After starting 2017 as the short-priced favourite to be the first coach dismissed, Paul McGregor won the backing of the board after their impressive start to last season and signed a contract extension which will expire at the end of the 2019 season.

    The six-match winning streak is his second of this length, after another six in the early part of the 2015 season – the year they last made the finals.

    Against the Warriors on Friday night, they will be shooting for their seventh straight win – which would mark the first time since 2011 that they have won as many matches in succession.

    They also only need to score six points to become the quickest side this season to crack 200, while the 80 they have conceded is equal second-best with the Panthers (only the Wests Tigers have conceded fewer, with 67).

    The last side to start a season so impressively were the Storm, in 2013, as they won their first seven matches of the season before eventually finishing third and bowing out of the finals in straight sets.

    They also won their first nine matches of the 2012 season before eventually going on to take out that year’s premiership.

    Last year, the Dragons won eight of their first 12 matches, however injuries and poor form saw them eventually stumble down the ladder, finishing ninth after losing to the Bulldogs in the final round.

    While it was a bitterly disappointing finish to the season after such an impressive first half, it was still a good result given the low expectations laid on the club at the start of 2017.

    However, with the arrivals of Hunt and Graham, as well as lessons learnt from their capitulation in the second half of last year, the expectations are high, and the club are living up to them.

    Ben Hunt Dragons

    Ben Hunt (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    They were faced with a first-up clash against the Broncos, a team they had previously struggled against for the most part of the last decade, with only one win against the Queenslanders dating back to 2010.

    However, buoyed by home-ground advantage, and most likely Hunt having a point to prove against his old club, the Dragons won 34-12 to keep their opponents winless at Kogarah Oval since 1998.

    Now the challenge is to maintain their form on a consistent basis and, who knows, it could end with a premiership many considered unlikely three years ago.

    The Origin period, in which the club is likely to be the hardest-hit, given the number of players that are in form, will also prove to be a challenge, with Hunt likely to inherit the Maroons’ number seven guernsey vacated by Cooper Cronk.

    Tyson Frizell is also certain to be absent during this period, and if Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan can maintain their impressive individual form, both also look set to be selected by new Blues coach Brad Fittler.

    But that all lies ahead – before then, this Friday night there is a tough clash against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland to look forward to, before the annual Anzac Day clash against the Roosters, in which the corresponding fixture last year led to their slow fall down the ladder.

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    The Crowd Says (43)

    • April 16th 2018 @ 8:14am
      Paul said | April 16th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      The issue for the Dragons will not arise till they hit the second part of the season. This where McGregor needs to show he is a fair dinkum first grade coach by keeping the guys motivated, especially those who have played rep footy, as well as dealing with the inevitable injuries.

      If he can manage that, the Dragons should make at least the Finals if not the top 4, then anything’s possible from there. In the mean time, they simply need to keep winning. Pretty simple,

    • April 16th 2018 @ 8:41am
      Adam Bagnall said | April 16th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      The Dragons are the best team in the competition, there is no doubt about that, but they face a big month ahead with difficult matches against the Warriors, Roosters, Storm and Rabbitohs. On current form, I think they can win at least three, with the Warriors in NZ a tricky one. The key to their success in 2018 is down to a number of factors
      1. A genuine threat at fullback; Dufty is all class, and with his speed he is a constant threat. Dugan was a powerful runner, but offered little else.
      2. Injury free. Saints have enjoyed a glorious run with injuries, with only a slight ankle injury to Leilua while playing ISP on the weekend, and he will only miss a week or 2. This run ensures continuity and it’s showing with how well the team is playing each week.
      3. A genuine halfback. To find a genuine halfback at the Dragons you have to go back a long time. Noel Goldthorpe in the 90’s maybe, or perhaps Steve Morris in the 70’s? I don’t think at any stage of the merger have they had a genuine number seven, and Ben Hunt’s addition was a masterstroke, taking pressure off Widdop who is allowed to run more freely.
      4. Confidence. With six wins from as many games, no team is more confident than the Dragons. This makes training a lot more enjoyable, the team is relaxed, those annoying social media trolls have gone strangely quiet, Mary doesn’t have any speculation over his future and they are clearly enjoying their time together on the field. The plays are well drilled and well executed, gone are the days of clunky plays out the back, poorly timed passes from Rein, McCrone, Marshall, they now have a great spine working wonders for the team.
      Origin will hamper the team, as the current system punishes successful teams, ripping their best players out for a series that goes too long, (one game of Origin per year would be better, but that’s an other story), while rewarding mediocrity, allowing lesser teams to snatch wins against weakened high flyers. I imagine guys like Aitken, Hunt, Frizell, De belin, McInnes, Vaughn and perhaps Sims will play some part during Origin, and it will be a big test for the club over the Origin period.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 16th 2018 @ 7:05pm
        3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 7:05pm | ! Report

        You blokes have only played 1 decent team so far this season, the Rabbitohs.
        The others are pathetic!

    • Roar Rookie

      April 16th 2018 @ 9:23am
      3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      NO WAY, this mob is the luckiest team in the Comp, how many free penalty goals are the Refs continually going to give them?
      15 Penalty Goals in 6 matches WOW…
      There haven’t been that many since a try went from 3 points to 4 in 1983
      VERY Lucky these Dragons are!

      They have defeated so many “Ordinary teams thus far”
      Sharks twice, Knights, Titans and the Shoncos are also extremely ordinary.

      The Rabbitohs are the only decent team they have played yet with 70% of the ball and 3 Penalty Goals they could only win by 4 points.
      No Sam Burgess either!

      PENALTY GOALS:
      Rd 6, 4 Penalty Goals against the sharks in the first half.
      The poor old Sharkies couldn’t get any ball or any momentum.

      Rd 5, 3 Penalty Goals against the Rabbitohs.they win by 4 points, 2 trys each
      70% of the ball and a 12 to 7 Penalty count.
      Rd 4 Beat the Knights

      Rd 3 3 Penalty Goals.
      Smashed the Titans but still received

      Rd 2, 2 Penalty Goals against the Sharks win by 4 points.

      Rd 1, 3 Penalty Goals against the Shoncos,
      The mergers weren’t all that good, The Shoncs made them look good.

      • April 16th 2018 @ 10:04am
        Adam Bagnall said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        six wins from six cannot be merely luck. They can only play what’s in front of them, and they trailed the Sharks at halftime in round 2 or three but were good enough to win, also overcame a gallant Knights team. Rabbitohs came back hard in the second half but brilliant defence got Saints home, so not sure how you can label them as lucky. Definitely a rookie comment

      • April 16th 2018 @ 10:10am
        kk said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Thanks for that forensic analysis, 3Hats. .

        Looking forward to Sunday arvo May 13, SGI v SS. It should be a bottler.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 16th 2018 @ 10:28am
          3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          There are 3 Matches before that, one game at a time…
          It will be at our house,
          Kogarah Oval is worth at least 5 Penalties and a dozen 50/50 calls going their way!
          Plus 3 Penalty goals.

          • Roar Guru

            April 16th 2018 @ 11:45am
            Nat said | April 16th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            That’s a good one #refsfault one month out. If they don’t give away penalties, they won’t get beaten by the ensuing goals.

            • Roar Rookie

              April 16th 2018 @ 7:03pm
              3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 7:03pm | ! Report

              Nat, I don’t have much of an issue with that but against the Dragons at Kogarah, ONLY 1 of those Penalties was warranted not 3 of them.
              2 right in front and 1 about 20m in…

              In the second half, I saw on at least 3 occasions the Rabbitohs should have been awarded a penalty and right in front but NO Chance the ref just wouldn’t give them, even though the pocket ref did say Penalty…

              Oh well, the Mergers will get smashed when we play them at ANZ.

              • April 16th 2018 @ 11:38pm
                LachyP said | April 16th 2018 @ 11:38pm | ! Report

                If you opened your other eye at any point you would realise that the scoreline massively flattered South Sydney in that game. The Dragons were much better for the vast majority of the game including a couple of tries disallowed by the video referee. They gave up a couple of tries late which made it look closer but they were also coming off a 5 day turnaround and looked a bit fatigued and a touch lazy near the end. With a full 7 days rest for the second game South’s won’t even get a look in and you’ll be running through a new list of excuses. Also the St Merge stuff is petty rubbish showing your lack of class.

      • April 16th 2018 @ 10:14am
        I miss the force said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Absolute battler , 3 hats
        Good chance of winning most boring man on internet 3 years running

        • April 16th 2018 @ 10:28am
          uglykiwi said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          Love it 3 hats!! I will say though the Warriors this week will be a cracker. Got a feeling the Warriors win this game.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 16th 2018 @ 10:31am
          3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          I miss you force… NOT
          Opinions are like Butt Holes and you have one as everyone else does.
          Let us wait until September, then I will revisit this thread.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 16th 2018 @ 10:55am
          3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          People who get bored are just plain boring themselves!

          • Roar Rookie

            April 16th 2018 @ 6:03pm
            Pedro the Saint said | April 16th 2018 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

            Ahh 3 Hats … how are you ol’ mate. Your reputation is still riding high.
            Let me give you the write of reply after i respond to your BS comments.

            In the Souths game we had a nice call go against us on an obstruction rule – yes the call went your way, but had we been awarded that try i think we would have opened up the throttle a little bit more.

            You have a good team – a good forward pack, a great hooker from St George in Cook, we bought turtle legs (as you labelled him) McInnes from Souths and he has been the form hooker in terms of consistency.

            On the ladder – the rabbits, Broncs, Titans, Knights are all square on 6 points and i think they all have quality within their side…

            Saints deserve the current spot on the ladder.

            • Roar Rookie

              April 16th 2018 @ 7:39pm
              3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 7:39pm | ! Report

              Nice try Pedro but NO CIGAR for you mate.

              That Video Ref decision to disallow that try was SPOT ON MATE.

              Read the bloody rules again mate.
              Your lead Runner/DECOY made contact with a defender and stopped in the line.
              Under the Laws of the Game, they do state it was an illegal play!

              A correct decision it was NO TRY.
              The problem is that 99% of people like you do not know all the Laws of the game.
              Referees like me do know all of them.

              Obstruction
              The indicators for an obstruction include:
              1. (a) ‘Block’* or ‘Flat’ runner[s] (who do not receive the ball) must not stop in the middle of the defensive line
              (b) ‘Block’ or ‘Flat’ runner[s] (who do not receive the ball) must not run at (chest or outside shoulder of) defender[s]
              and initiate contact
              (c) The Referee or Review Officials can determine the significance of contact initiated by the ‘Block’ or ‘Flat’
              runner[s] (who does not receive the ball) in impeding a defender’s involvement in a try scoring play

              Note:
              Adam Reynolds was run into by the decoy, the initial contact was made by the Dragons player.

              Gus Gould is one of those 99% of people.
              Don’t go on what that fool Gus Gould says, he gets so many things wrong
              He must have been belted around the head way too many times as a youngster!

              ************************
              WHO is your Hooker again? McInnes is a top bloke and solid defender but that is all.

              That’s right a junior of ours that couldn’t stay in first grade due to Damien Cook.who we pinched off the Dogs because your rabble of a Management couldn’t identify great talent if it jumped up and bit them on the A$$

              You have our DREGGS!
              Yes, he is so slow his nickname was turtle coming through the ranks.

      • April 16th 2018 @ 11:15am
        Paul said | April 16th 2018 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        So the only reasons the Dragons have won 6 out of 6 this year are luck and penalties? There’s a special category for a comment like that – “genius – not”

        • Roar Rookie

          April 16th 2018 @ 8:08pm
          3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 16th 2018 @ 8:08pm | ! Report

          Not the only reason but it is strange that they have kicked 15 Penalty Goals in only 5 of their 6 games, they didn’t kick any against the Knights.

          That is the very reason Trys were changed from 3 points to 4, in 1983, way too many penalty goals!

          In 2 of their games this season they kicked 3 Penalty Goals in each game and won those games by only 4 points.
          The bottom line is they should be 4 wins and 2 losses.
          I have no issue with the other 4 games.

          In both of those games, Sharks Rd 2 and Rabbitohs Rd 5 plenty of 50/50 decisions went their way that led to roll-ons.

          In the Souths game, 2 passes were ruled forward, replays showed they were good.
          Also, 2 knock-ons went against Souths but again replays showed knocked backwards, the commentators went off about the deficiencies of those 2 blind bats!

          They do get a hell of a lot of 50/50 decisions go their way.
          That is a fact.

          Even in the Broncos game in the first 10 minutes decisions were in their favour were pretty dodgy.
          Led to a massive roll on.

          The Panthers and the Tigers also seem to get favourable treatment.
          I am a Retired referee, I can see plenty that the average fan misses.

          • April 16th 2018 @ 11:48pm
            LachyP said | April 16th 2018 @ 11:48pm | ! Report

            There are a couple of reasons they have kicked so many penalty goals. One is that there have been a lot of huge number of penalties this year with the referees cracking down on offside. Another is that the Dragons have been playing from in front, when you are 6 or more points behind you are less likely to take the points on offer because you are chasing points. A third is that they are making big metres, dominating field position in a lot of their games and as such when they get penalties they are in positions they can turn them into points.

            • Roar Rookie

              April 17th 2018 @ 6:55am
              3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

              That is true LachyP,
              If you are in front you are more inclined to take the 2 points.
              Yes, the Dragons are second for metres gained, the Rabbitohs are ranked No.1 in that department.

              • April 18th 2018 @ 9:05am
                danwain said | April 18th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

                The rabbits are no doubt the best team we have played this year, even though the dragons looked well in control of the game you always seemed the rabbits would stage a comeback. Dragons tired in the second half off the back on playing in 34 degree heat the previous weekend and a 5 day turnaround to boot.
                Dragons have a points differential of 114 and have scored 194 points, that’s not luck mate. They have a big strong forward pack, clever halves and strike on both sides of the field. Still think it’s way too early to talk premiers but good experience may set them up for next year.

    • April 16th 2018 @ 9:34am
      souvalis said | April 16th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

      You’d have to think that the Sharks would have just about finished over the top of the Dragons had they not lost their entire engine room fulcrum..Val gets his little finger out the way,touch judge rules Nightingale over the sideline instead of in…Dragons were at full strength for 80 yet still getable me thinks… regardless of that it was a well earnt win..

      • April 16th 2018 @ 10:32am
        Kenw said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        I think the only man keeping the Sharks in that game from the outset was Fifita. He was having one of those games where you just wonder how a man that big – and let’s be honest and point out that it doesn’t all look like muscle – can move like that. He’s just amazing when he’s on. The Dragons still looked to have the upper hand but while ever he was there it was never sure.

        I don’t think the Sharks missed a beat with Gallen off but once Fifita was gone the game was over. As an aside, if Holmes hadn’t knocked it on (which he did), it would have still been a no-try since Nene touched it afterward while over the touch-in-goal line. A drop-out may have given a better result for the Sharks than the 10m scrum did – but if my Uncle was my Nanna, etc,etc.

      • April 16th 2018 @ 4:58pm
        Albo said | April 16th 2018 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

        I think the Dragons have had the perfect start to the season and all is going along swimmingly for them. They have a very good and well balanced side , boasting a strong & consistent pack and plenty of strike force across the backline. But I will still reserve my judgement on their September chances for a few more matches. My doubts are around their depth should they suffer some significant injuries…… to date they have managed to avoid any at all. But should they lose Hunt or Widdop or both for a period of time, who is their back up ? Can one of them run the show effectively like Maloney seems to be doing without Cleary at Penrith ? But should they stay injury free all season, like the Sharks generally did in 2016, they could well repeat that same sort of final outcome.

    • April 16th 2018 @ 10:02am
      14-12 said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      Hard to say until the second half of the season. They look great right now, but we’ve seen them do this before. Having said that, this year does feel a bit different.

    • April 16th 2018 @ 10:14am
      I miss the force said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

      Origin is different this year. All teams will miss their players for 1 game

      • Roar Guru

        April 16th 2018 @ 10:51am
        Nat said | April 16th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        That’s not true, your team won’t be losing any players on current form.

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