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Opinion

It’s time to take a good, hard look at the Dragons’ recruitment for 2022

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Roar Guru
29th October, 2021
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7481 Reads

With just over four months until the start of the 2022 season, and the player negotiation window open for business on Monday, what better time to have a look at the Dragons’ recruitment for next year.

St George Illawarra fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years. The 2010 premiership seems like a distant memory, and the past five seasons have seen very lean pickings for the club, finishing in an average of 11th place on the ladder, with a best performance of seventh in 2018 and worst of 15th in 2019. It’s only by a miracle that they haven’t got their hands on the wooden spoon.

The appointment of Anthony Griffin as coach for 2021 and beyond gave the Dragons new hope, and things looked to be on the improve early last season when they notched eight wins from the first 16 games to be sitting comfortably in the top eight.

Then things hit a snag after the infamous BBQ, and the Dragons managed to lose the next eight games on the trot, just sneaking into 11th place ahead of Wests and the Warriors on for and against. No other team managed to have such a disastrous run home.

Anthony Griffin

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

To the club’s credit though, they haven’t been idle. They cancelled the contract of serial tool Paul Vaughan, showed the perennially overpaid and underperforming Corey Norman the door, and said goodbye to Matt Dufty, who has somehow convinced himself that he knows more than the coach. Good luck trying that one on ‘Gus’ Gould next year, Matt.

All in all they let over a dozen players go, and the only real loss was Cameron McInnes, who didn’t take the field at all in 2021 due to injury. On the recruitment front, only the Bulldogs have been more active than the Dragons, who have now recruited eight players to date.

There are no marquee signings though, more like some bargain basement acquisitions and a couple of good prospects. However, the big question is will these new players change the club’s fortunes in 2022?

Let’s take a good, hard look at the new arrivals.

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George Burgess
Age: 29, turning 30 in April next year.

Position: Prop forward, lock.

Contract: 2022 and 2023.

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Background: Burgess has played 158 games at the top level and 15 Tests for England, the last of which was off the bench in November 2018. His last first grade game was for Wigan in November 2020, again off the bench, when he injured his hip, and he is still recovering from that injury after corrective surgery.

Rabbitohs forward George Burgess.

George Burgess. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Opinion: Signing Burgess is a calculated risk. If he fully recovers from his injury, and if he wants his career back badly enough, he could turn out to be a very effective middle forward for the Dragons. However, that might just be one if too many. Burgess also some discipline issues both on and off the field that he will need to address if he’s going to make a positive impact.

Recruitment rating: 4/10

Jack Gosiewski
Age: 27, turning 28 in May next year.

Position: Second row.

Contract: 2022.

Background: Gosiewski has played 52 first grade games since making his top grade debut in 2016, the last of which was off the bench for Manly in July this year. He played just six top level games for Manly in 2021, none of them encouraging from a Dragons fan’s perspective. I’ve seen Gosiewski play some good games for Manly, particularly in 2019, but his form over the last two seasons has been ordinary.

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Opinion: We’ll have to put this one down to either a depth signing or an Ian Millward brain snap, as I can’t see Gosiewski forcing himself into the team’s the second row ahead of Tariq Simms, Jaydn Su’A, Tyrell Fuimaono, Billy Burns, Jackson Ford or even Jack Bird. A strange signing.

Recruitment rating: 3/10

Moses Mbye
Age: 28, turning 29 in August next year.

Position: Fullback, centre, five eighth, half back and hooker.

Contract: 2022 and 2023.

Background: Mbye has played 157 first grade games since making his top level debut in 2014, and also played three Origins for Queensland in 2019. Proficient in many positions, he has played the majority of his games at either halfback or fullback. He played 22 games for Wests last season, primarily off the bench, has captained the club, and is a handy goal kicker.

Moses Mbye of the Tigers offloads the ball

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Opinion: Mbye is a smart signing by Griffin, and I suspect that a change from the toxic Wests’ culture will get the best out of him. His utility value makes him the perfect choice to play off the bench, and he has the experience, good character and maturity to play a key role in the top 13 if he gets the chance.

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Recruitment rating: 7/10

Tautau Moga
Age: 27, turning 28 in December next year

Position: Centre, wing.

Contract: 2022.

Background: If six clubs qualifies you for ‘journeyman’ status then Moga has now made it. He has played 74 top grade games since making his first grade debut as an 18-year-old in 2012, together with three Tests for Samoa, but has spent nearly four seasons out of the game during that time with ACL injuries. His last first grade game was played off the bench for Souths in Round 25 of last year, and that was his only top grade appearance for the Bunnies.

Opinion: This is another big gamble. At his very best, say for the Broncos in 2017, Moga is a devastating ball runner, but he has one of the worst injury records in the game. Even if he’s fully fit, and let’s hope he has some good luck for a change, he still looks like a depth signing at best, and sitting behind the likes of Zac Lomax, Moses Suli, Jack Bird and the Feagai brothers for a start in the centres.

Recruitment rating: 3/10

Francis Molo
Age: 27, turning 28 in September next year.

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Position: Prop forward, lock.

Contract: 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Background: Molo has played 76 games in the top grade over the last eight seasons, has played two Tests for the Cook Islands, and two Origins for Queensland. He has hit his career best form since joining the Cowboys in 2018, and now appears to have firmly established himself in the Queensland Origin team.

Francis Molo

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Opinion: This is a good signing by the club, provided that the copes with the move away from life in North Queensland. Molo will help to provide some much-needed go forward and muscle up front. He likes the hard work and is a problem for the defence when he has the ball in hand. Molo is not a player to be dominated.

Recruitment rating: 8/10

Jaydn Su’A
Age: 24, turning 25 in October next year.

Position: Second row.

Contract: 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Background: Su’A was a junior star and made his first grade debut for the Broncos as an 18-year-old in 2016. He has now played 83 top grade games, four Origins for Queensland, and one Test for Samoa. He was a key member of Souths’ strong campaign last season.

Jaydn Su'A

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Opinion: Jaydn Su’A is a young player still on the rise but already has a lot of valuable experience under his belt. He should be a big success on the Dragons’ right edge and could form a dangerous combination with Zac Lomax and Mikaele Ravalawa. Su’A has all the skills required to be a success, and a nice dose of aggression to go with it.

Recruitment rating: 8/10

Moses Suli
Age: 23, turning 24 in June next year.

Position: Centre, wing.

Contract: 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Background: Moses Suli has always been a precocious talent, but has somehow failed to capitalise on his opportunities, and his attitude has really let him down on multiple occasions. Suli now has 80 first grade games and one Test for Tonga under his belt at just 23 years of age, and turned out 13 times for Manly in 2021.

Opinion: This could be a make-or-break season for Suli, a player with immense talent, size, and speed. At his best, he can tear the defence apart, while at his worst he can look disinterested, and a player stuck in second gear. If Griffin can get the best out of him, Suli could be one of the most dangerous centres in the game by season’s end. Fingers and toes crossed.

Recruitment rating: 6/10

Aaron Woods
Age: 30, turning 31 in March next year.

Position: Prop forward.

Contract: 2022.

Background: Woods made his first grade debut as a 20-year-old in 2011 and has gone on to play 233 first grade games, 17 Tests for Australia and 14 Origins for NSW. He played nearly every game for the Sharks last year and was one of their most consistent forwards.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Opinion: The thing about Woods is that while he won’t win you too many games on his own, he also won’t lose you any. He’ll do his job in the middle of the field, make his metres, do his fair share of tackles, and get the set moving. Along with Andrew McCullough, he’ll bring a level of experience, leadership and a cool head to what could otherwise be a volatile forward pack.

Recruitment rating: 6/10

So all in all, it is a very mixed bag. A couple of experienced old hands in Woods and Mbye, a couple of up and coming rugged forwards in Molo and Su’A, a couple of players who need to get over their injury concerns to be of any use in Burgess and Moga, a player in Suli who is yet to fulfill his undoubted potential, and Jack Gosiewski.

So how might they line up next year? Assuming all of the squad is fit to play, this is how Anthony Griffin will deploy his squad in 2022.
1. Tyrell Sloan
2. Mikaele Ravalawa
3. Zac Lomax
4. Moses Suli
5. Cody Ramsey
6. Junior Amone
7. Ben Hunt
8. Francis Molo
9. Andrew McCullough
10. Blake Lawrie
11. Jaydn Su’A
12. Tariq Sims
13. Jack De Belin
14. Moses Mbye
15. George Burgess
16. Aaron Woods
17. Josh Kerr

That’s a reasonably handy line-up that could just win enough games to creep into the top eight, provided that they can remain injury and BBQ free, but there are some questions with the squad overall:

• Will there be a role for the off-contract Jack Bird?
• What role will off-contract young gun Jayden Sullivan play? If he doesn’t get any opportunities, he’ll probably jump ship.
• Would Griffin actually consider playing Moga ahead of the Feagai twins? They have been in the system for a couple of years now, and are off contract in 2022. They too will be looking for some serious game time or may choose to head for greener pastures.
• Why so many depth forwards, with the likes of Daniel Alvaro, Billy Burns, Poasa Faamausili, Jackson Ford, Tyrell Fuimaono, Jack Gosiewski and Josh McGuire all waiting for an opportunity?

With just one spot still to fill in the Dragons’ 2022 squad they can put a line through the next season’s recruitment task, however it all starts again on Monday, as the Dragons have 13 players coming off contract in 2022. Watch this space!

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