After yet another rough loss for St George Illawarra on the weekend, coach Paul McGregor is under immense public pressure to retain his job.
As a modern-day Dragons fan, believe me, I’ve experienced some ups and downs.
There’s something about following the Red V. Some years the club promises so much and fails to deliver, and others you enter a new season not anticipating anything and almost with a sense of numbness. Strangely enough, I don’t feel overly confident about the club’s prospects in 2019.
You could call me crazy. For a large portion of this season we were unstoppable. Our attack was menacing and we were scoring tries from almost every blade of grass within the borders of the field. Our defence was unbreakable, with Jack de Belin and Tariq Sims breaking people in half. And despite our normal late-season fade, the signs suggested an even better Dragons for 2019.
But the happenings over recent weeks have left me finishing 2018 with a bad taste in my mouth regarding the club’s prospects next season.
Firstly, our recruitment. The signature of Corey Norman comes with many, many risks. Obviously the addition of Norman was opportunistic and more or less an attempt to soften the blow from Gareth Widdop’s rumoured departure following next season. But despite Corey’s undoubted talent and ability to do freakish things on the field, he also possesses a big ego and with it a poor attitude.
I question how Norman will fit in with our tightly bound culture, which is something that has set us apart from other clubs, especially considering the size of Norman’s role, be it player five-eight or fullback.
Beyond the Norman signing is the loss of Nene MacDonald and the failure to have him replaced. A freak finisher who was unstoppable at various stages of this season, Nene’s biggest asset is his size and strength and the ability he possesses to get a team on the front foot from deep.
The Dragons had one of the best go-forwards in the competition throughout 2018 and a lot of this had to do with Nene. With the loss of the sizey Papua New Guinean to the Cowboys, we could really struggle with our yardage next season.
Moving on, the thought of not having Jack De Belin on the field for any stage of next season scares me. De Belin is the glue that holds our defence together, and it was notable when Jack was missing due to either Origin or injury this year. Guilty of his convictions or not, there’s a good possibility De Belin will miss a vital part of next season, and that should be a major cause of concern for Red V fans.
On the other hand, however, this could provide a player like Blake Lawrie with a big opportunity to show what he’s made of – and going off his late-season efforts this year, it’s pure concrete.
The final question lies within the side’s stamina. What measures are in place to ensure another late-season fade-out doesn’t happen next season? While the experience gained by the younger players like Blake Lawrie, Luciano Leuilua, Reece Robson and Zac Lomax in the late stages this year will certainly help with fatigue among the representative playing group, nothing has been said of how the coaching staff will address this particular issue, which has impacted the club for the past three seasons under Paul McGregor. I believe I speak for the entire Dragons community in saying that another post-Origin drift will not be handled well.
Don’t get me wrong – the Dragons are most certainly in a premiership window with their current 17, and this year demonstrated that they can beat any team on their day or not. But the events of recent weeks and certain recruitment decisions made by the club will be tested very early in 2019.
Time will tell if the Red V have learnt from some of its mistakes from this season.