With Saints running dead last after 4 rounds, leaking 38 points per match, the question I am being continually asked is ?what do you think is wrong with the Dragons?? and after much thought here is my two cents worth.
The problem can?t be player talent, as we have a team that on paper should be in the Top 4. The problem can?t be injuries as we were almost at full strength this weekend and still got steam rolled with defensive lapses, just as we did in the finals last year. The problem can?t be the supporters because as easy as it is for Management and newspapers to talk about crowds booing, leaving early, or complaining on internet forums they certainly aren?t the ones involved in making any day to day decisions. And the problem shouldn?t be the coach as we are assured he has a great football brain and has the respect of the playing staff.
So what does that leave that could be causing the rot? I believe the answer is Culture and Attitude. Simply - we no longer have a winning culture or a winning mindset. In fact it seems we haven?t for years. Even when the Club reflects on last year we are told we finished in our best ever position as a JV in 5th, however I am sure all supporters would feel that making the Grand Final in 1999 or beating the Dogs and getting to the second round of the finals in 2001 would be a better achievement. Last year we in fact came 7th as the finals determine where you finish the season, not the table after August. In fact year after year it feels like we have become the 7th specialists who celebrate success through our players making Origin teams rather than winning grand finals. Looking more at our culture and attitude it seems to be one of always making excuses about why we are losing instead of copping it on the chin and doing the hard work to change things. On field the problems with our attitude are self evident. While Management tries to deny this, it is the case that we need to accept we are the most inconsistent team in the League and address our error rates and slow starts made in 3 of 4 games this year, and the last 2 games of last year.
Touching more on the deemed unfair criticism, pressure and attention the Club feels it attracts from the media and its own supporters it is fair to reflect on why many chose to expect so much of St George Illawarra. As a former St George fan, being the perspective I can personally give, I feel disillusioned and disappointed with our performance because when I compare where we are in our seventh campaign as St George Illawarra Dragons compared to the seven seasons previous to that as St George, the difference in results is clear. St George made the finals in 98, grand final in 96, finals in 95, and grand finals in 92 and 93. Not a bad run for a club which apparently had a dying junior base and a need to merge. That is without even looking at the tremendous history of St George, whose supporters also remember well moderate success through the mid eighties, two premierships from four grand finals in the 70?s and of course the famous 11 straight Premierships from the glory days. As a Dragons supporter of age 26 the only thing I am yet to witness is a Premiership and until we are consistently challenging for that honour, and winning it every so often, I will not see us as having successful seasons.
We sit today as a Club surrounded by rumour, innuendo and gossip. Much of it is no doubt untrue but where there is some smoke there must be some fire and results to date have done nothing to dissipate this. Compare the speculation about Nathan Brown now to Danny Weidler's recent revelation about discontent at the Cowboys. The Cowboys denied it (as we do) however they came out the next week and beat the Bulldogs and have followed that up with wins over the Warriors and Newcastle. If we had started winning our rumours would have died too.
So where do we turn and what do we do? The easy answer is if the team wins football games every problem would solve itself. However in a League as tough as ours winning those games is no mean feat. The people responsible for winning football games are the players who answer to the coach and the coach who answers to Management and Management who answer to the Board. And to turn the ship every single person in the Club needs to take ownership for our current position and ask themselves what they can do better themselves to help us win as a unit. The Boards responsibility is to either get Peter Doust and his team to address the issues with those below them or be dealt with themselves. If Doust and his team are prepared to maintain faith in Nathan Brown, then at the end of the year they should be sacked if we don?t get results, not him. However if he is the issue the Board should remove him. And if Brown deems that the players skill, training, fitness or preparation is a problem then he has to have the mental toughness to deal with the players within the team regardless of their stature or salary and make them a ?great team? rather than relying on individual great players. And the players need to ask themselves that if they want to play September football and take the glory, rep honours and salary that come with it, what they can do as individuals and as a team to achieve that.
And we the supporters of St George Illawarra need to do what we do best, and be at the games and cheer our team home to victory each and every week. Because long after Trent Barrett, Lance Thompson, Peter Doust and Nathan Brown are gone we are the ones who will still be here ? keeping the Mighty Dragon spirit alive.