GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Where did it all go wrong? That's a question most, if not all, Dragons fans are asking, after a limp second half of the season for the reigning premiers. Most point the finger at the supercoach, Wayne Bennett but this review won't do that.
2011 was always going to be tougher, for St George Illawarra. The reigning premiers and world club champions became the hunted, fifteen other clubs wanting to knock them off their perch alas in the first portion of the season, they reigned.
St George went ten games undefeated to start the season and back to back titles, looked a fait accompli, so much a betting agency paid out on them winning the minor premiership. Origin and injury intervened though, to start a slide which would end up placing St George Illawarra 5th after 26 premiership rounds.
They would exit from the finals after consecutive losses including the extra time heartbreaker to Brisbane but the Dragons can hold their high, they were valiant in their title defense and it shows why no team has gone back to back since 1992-93.
Gains: Chase Stanley, Will Matthews, Jeremy Latimore, Leeson Ah Mau, Daniel Vidot, Josh Miller, Atelea Vea and Denan Kemp.
Losses: Darius Boyd, Adam Cuthbertson, Alex McKinnon (Newcastle Knights), Jack Bosden, Peni Tagive (Sydney Roosters), Jon Green (Cronulla Sharks) and Mark Gasnier (Retirement)
Attacking prowess wasn't high on the agenda of the Dragons in 2010 but they were keen to change that in 2011. Centre Matt Cooper was a vital component in that and had a stellar 2011. He scored 14 tries and looked like he visited the foundation of youth during the off season.
Representative honours flowed this season for the Dragons, they had a massive nine players picked for State of Origin and vindicated the faith Bennett showed in his players especially playmaker Jamie Soward who set up the winning try in Origin two.
Fading out. It was a major problem for St George Illawarra this season, earlier in the year, the Dragons would rack up the points early then coast to wins. This attitude cost them later in the year, when South Sydney and Canberra both came back from large margins, to pull off massive victories over the reigning premiers.
The evergreen Matt Cooper was a stable presence in the centres during an interrupted season for the Dragons. He was the leading try scorer for the team and earned himself, another two year deal.
Alongside him, winger Jason Nightingale was a consistent top performer for the Dragons, whether scoring or making huge runs from his own tryline.
In the forwards, Dan Hunt on return from his Achilles heel injury, making up for lost time. He led the forward pack, which in times was inexperienced, taking the needed hit-ups, providing a platform for the backline to operate.
From the bench, Adam Cuthbertson was the fittest he had been ever and was the spark, the Dragons needed in several matches in 2011. His try and assist almost helping them over the Broncos in the semis.
It was always going to be hard to match his 2010 season but Darius Boyd didn't rise to the occasion many times in 2011, bar an intercept against Canterbury early on. The support play was there but it didn't have the same zip as last year and Boyd would drift out of games in crucial moments, leading to some of the Dragons losses.
Matt Prior was tipped to be the breakout star, for the Dragons in 2011 after a solid 2010 but it never seemed to get going for him. Some fans winced when he would take hit-ups or drop a ball during a key moment of the game. Prior continued to be the Mr. fix it for the Dragons but was more a bandaid on a large gash. The upside for Prior, is he has youth on his side.
Coming into 2011, Mitch Rein was low in the Dragon's hooking pecking order but with the injury to Cameron King, he shone. Rein slipped into the position seamlessly, becoming a competent back up for Fien and in other games, started to give the Dragons the roll on, they have become accustomed to.
Jack De Belin only emerged to the NRL later in the year but for Dragons fans who were watching the Toyota Cup throughout the year, saw talent in this prop forward who's crashing runs and stamina would worry oppositions. I'm tipping him, to have a breakout 2012 to secure a position in the Dragons starting 17.
Prospects for 2012
The majority of the premiership winning side is still there for St George Illawarra, meaning they can give the premiership a shake in 2012 and increased their depth in several positions that were glaring weaknesses in 2011.
The other variable is rookie coach, Steve Price who has vowed to not change the system much, to see if he can continue the success, Wayne Bennett built at Kogarah.
Best Line up for 2012
1. Bronx Goodwin 2. Brett Morris 3. Kyle Stanley 4. Matt Cooper 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Jamie Soward 7. Ben Hornby 8. Dan Hunt 9. Nathan Fien 10. Michael Weyman 11. Beau Scott 12. Ben Creagh 13. Matt Prior
Interchange: 14. Mitch Rein 15. Trent Merrin 16. Jack De Belin 17. David Gower