Paul Suttor’s excellent piece about St George Illawarra’s outlook for 2022 got me thinking about their longer-term outlook.
The club is looking to rebuild around a group of young players, while moving on experienced and underperforming players across 2022 and 2023.
The development of their young players and recruitment over the next 12 to 24 months will determine whether the Dragons can move from rebuilding mode to tentatively nudging a premiership window ajar in 2024.
Speculating about what might happen two to three years ahead of time is good way of making yourself look silly. But hey, one can dream.
This is my prospective and wildly speculative Dragons team for Round 1 2024.
In this scenario, the so-called ‘Moneyball’ recruitment genius of everybody’s favourite list manager, Ian Millward, has been recognised and seen him poached by another club that doesn’t understand what Michael Lewis was talking about.
Anthony Griffin’s contract is not renewed, and Jason Ryles returns to the club as head coach, with Ben Hornby his assistant. Matthew Elliott remains on the staff for comic relief.
Fullback: Nick Meaney
The talented Tyrell Sloan doesn’t develop at the Dragons but, of course, goes on to success elsewhere.
Nick Meaney revitalises his career at Melbourne as a utility player and part-time fullback and signs with the Dragons for 2024.
Winger: Max Feagai
The more physically imposing of the Feagai twins develops into a solid, metre-eating winger and forms an instinctive understanding with brother Mat on the Dragons left edge.
Centre: Mat Feagai
By 2024, Mat Feagai has become Matt Gidley to his brother’s Timana Tahu, as the twins run rampant through helpless right-edge defences throughout the land.
Centre: Zac Lomax
I hope that, by this point, Lomax has become a representative player through the quality of his attacking and defensive contributions, and his excellent goal kicking.
Winger: Greg Marzhew
In 2023, Marzhew starts to fulfil the Brian To’o comparisons and is a key player on the Gold Coast’s first premiership team. The Dragons, in a rare moment of recruiting prescience, sign him up shortly after 1 November 2022.
Five-eighth: Talatau Amone
Amone’s probably the pick of the Dragon’s crop of youngsters. It’s rarely possible for hyped youngsters, especially halves, to live up to expectations.
Amone has time to deal with that and should be ready to take the next step by 2024. Drew Hutchison will also become available in the interim.
Halfback: Jayden Sullivan
Sullivan re-signs and gradually takes over from Ben Hunt, begins to form a combination with Amone and becomes the full-time half in 2023 as Hunt’s contract nears its end.
Prop: Stefano Utoikamanu
Disillusioned with the ongoing mediocrity of the Wests Tigers, Utoikamanu signs with the Dragons and gains an early release to join the team in 2023.
Dummy-half: Reece Robson
After impressing in North Queensland, Robson returns to the Dragons for the 2024 season.
Prop: Josh Kerr
The rangy prop enjoys a breakout season in 2022 and by 2023 is putting up a POPE rating over 500.
Second rower: Isaiah Papali’i
Papali’i has reportedly rejected a contract offer from Parramatta and is being linked with big money at the Wests Tigers.
That’s probably his agent talking. With Tariq Sims contract nearing its end, the Dragons should see if a deal can be done.
Second rower: Jayden Su’A
Su’A will come off contract in 2024 but may still be a starting player at this point. There’s always a chance local youngster Jackson Ford realises his potential.
The Dragons should probably look for additional impact among their edge back rowers in the interim. David Fifita comes off contract in 2023. Just saying.
Lock: Jack de Belin
De Belin has an option in his favour for 2024 and it’s hard to imagine the then 33-year-old not exercising it. For all that I’m uncomfortable with De Belin’s continued presence at the club, he remains a quality player.
Bench prop: Kaden Somerville
The Dragons have reportedly signed the highly rated young prop from the Burleigh Bears. He should be ready by 2024, if not sooner.
Bench prop: Francis Molo
Molo will be coming into the final year of his contract and should still be a handy bench player.
Bench back rower: Bryce Cartwright
The talented Cartwright continues to make an impact in a bench role at Parramatta and joins the Dragons ahead of the 2024 season.
Utility: Ben Hunt
34-year-old Hunt opts to sign a reduced contract for 2024 and act as a utility, back-up half and mentor to the Dragons’ young spine.
Moses Suli, Cody Ramsey and, potentially, Mikaele Ravalawa will still be around in 2024. Some new youngsters are sure to emerge in the interim and may well be part of the 17.