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Two key signings form the basis for big changes at the Red V in 2018. Jack Clifton previews the Dragons' 2018 campaign.
If the North Queensland Cowboys' 2017 season season was seen as a miraculous story of winning against all the odds, the Dragons' year was more like a B-grade horror movie where everything went wrong.
After looking the goods for the first 10 rounds on the back of some brilliant play by Gareth Widdop and the reliable forward pack of the Red V, that all dissipated in the 2nd half of the year culminating in a bitterly disappointing loss against Canterbury in the final game of the season that ended the finals dream for the Dragons.
With just one finals appearance in the last five seasons, the pressure is well and truly on Paul McGregor to get his side to fire and achieve some on field success. The off-season signings of James Graham and Ben Hunt give them their best squad since 2011 when master coach Wayne Bennett was in charge and if the Red V again find themselves outside the 8 at seasons end, you can guarantee heads will roll.
On paper the Dragons have two of the most talented halves in the competition as well as a destructive forward pack that will run through brick walls. We saw how effective this was last season when the Dragons dominated the competition for the first 10 rounds.
If Hunt and Widdop can combine effectively then the Dragons will be posting plenty of points which will equate to wins and some potential October success.
Coaching. It's pretty simple. Paul McGregor has done some good things at the Red V but overall his marker of success is finals football and since his arrival in 2014 he's only made one trip to the post season.
When the Dragons were in free fall last season (and also in 2015) he wasn't able to halt the slide and even was outcoached in periods of games last season which hurt the Dragons. When you see the caliber of coaches that are with the big boys (Melbourne, North Queensdland, Brisbane etc.) It is hard to see the Dragons having any extended success while McGregor is at the helm.
The name of the lips of every Dragons fan is Ben Hunt. A Queensland and Australian Representative that almost took the Broncos to 2015 Premiership glory, he moves down South with the hope of a new start with St George Illawarra. His confidence probably hasn't been the same since his drop in the Grand Final which led to Jonathan Thurston's match winning field goal. However with a fresh start comes fresh opportunities and he will want to hit the ground running for the Red V.
He will take the pressure of Gareth Widdop with his organisation skills and his running ability close to the line. He also has a deadly short kicking game which will benefit the Dragons to no end after they struggled to gain repeat sets last season.
With the chance to nab a starting spot in the Queensland Maroons starting side, there is a carrot being dangled for Hunt to perform well in the first part of the season.
If injuries come calling you can guarantee that Zac Lomax will pop up in some form or another. After pushing Matt Dufty throughout pre season, the star Under 20's fullback will have to wait for his opportunities in first grade. Coach Paul McGregor has been impressed with his training performance which is a good sign that he is on the right track.
Lomax has a deadly step and is one of the quickest players at the Dragons. One to keep an eye on.
Gains | Ben Hunt (Broncos), James Graham (Bulldogs), Jeremy Latimore (Sharks), Darren Nicholls (Panthers), Mitch Allgood (Wakefield), Jackson Ford
Losses | Josh Dugan (Sharks), Siliva Havili (Raiders), Drew Hutchison (Leigh), Chris Lewis (released), Mose Masoe (Hull KR), Will Matthews (Widnes), Tyrone McCarthy (Salford), Josh McCrone (Toronto), Taane Milne (Wests Tigers), Shaun Nona (Broncos), Russell Packer (Wests Tigers), Joel Thompson (Sea Eagles)