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A stumbling start, a magnificent streak, first half horror stories and a piece of Matthew Head brilliance. Once again we are at the half way mark of another intriguing story regarding the enigma that is the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Yesterdays defeat to the Melbourne Storm, has left the club sitting once again on that mark which has cursed them since inception in 1999 - 50%. However despite starting the season with five defeats out of their first six games, there is a feeling in the air that just maybe this is the year that history can be created.
Paper statistics alone indicate that as a club, the Dragons have gone backwards. Defensively strong last year, the opening half of 2005 show that in terms of points against, only the hapless Bunnies and winless Knights are worse off as a defensive unit. The intensity or lack thereof in defense at certain periods was never more evident than in yesterdays clash against Melbourne where their loss basically came down to four poor defensive stops close to their own line.
To simply criticise or place a label however due to points against would do disservice to a side who have matured as a defensive unit in the past eighteen months. The side have shown a great ability in tight situations this year to hold out teams for extended periods of time. The keyman in todays line up is the boom youngster from Wollongong Ben Creagh. One of the cleanest hitters in league today, his rise to the top will help bring an even greater attitude to the Dragons defensive line in the second half of this season.
In attacking terms, the club is somewhere towards where they want to be. New additions on the wing in local St George junior Wes Naiqama and ex Shark Colin Best have proved handy acquisitions holding out last years wingers Reece Simmonds and Nick Youngquest. Best in particular despite his much maligned beginning, has proved a more than handy finisher and is forming a quite potent right side combination with Mark Gasnier.
The most noticeable thing this year is that combinations are beginning to be truly developed due to players not being injured. Barrett and Gasnier are the catalysts for so much of Saints attack, and their ability to continue to string the appearances together through the second half of this year will ensure that fans will be able to see plenty more of those razzle dazzle tries they have come to expect.
Barrett's form in particular has been a sight for sore eyes and the improvement is becoming more noticeable every game. With Barrett leading the way and getting good early ball to arguably the best centre combination in Rugby League today, the signs are only pointing one way and that is up.
So fans are still asking why the team is not performing to its peak. Lets take a look at the positives and negatives to come out of these first twelve matches and look towards September and maybe even October.
Positives: ? Trent Barrett has been in some of the best form of his career to date. Running better lines in attack, his choices of when to run and when to distribute are also getting much better. More ball to the backs and the opportunities to run at lazy forwards will present themselves. Also his defense is back to its bruising 1999 quality. The key man to winning or losing this competition. ? Mark Gasnier once again has shown himself to have some of the quickest feet in the business. His shimmy is a sight to be seen, and I'm sure most Saints fans are hoping to see a lot more of it over the remaining four months of this season. ? Winning the tight ones has always been a noose around the clubs neck since 1999. However three tight hard fought victories against Easts, Wests and Newcastle have helped to dispell that theory. ? Seven representatives in the NSW thirty man squad is a huge achievement. On top of this Lance Thompson and Dean Young are also close to the squad and Shaun Timmins has retired from representative football. ? Lance Thompsons leadership has been a major plus for the team this year. Whilst never shirking the work at all, he has stepped up during the horrendous start to the season and planted his mark all over our forward pack for the betterment of all. ? Ben Creagh is a star shooting straight for the top. He is one that must be kept at all costs. His running and defense is amazing. Full throttle smashing impact wherever you turn. Will be captain of this team within three years
? A 1-5 start has once again left the club chasing its tail rather than setting the pace like it rightfully should be. ? Running up first half deficits of over 20 points was a sign of the times through March and April. A return to those days will see the side sitting joining Newcastle and Souths very quickly. ? Ashton Sims was talked about before Origin III last year as a potential bolter for a front row spot. Now he is struggling for form in First Division. A prized recruit who has been earmarked for superstardom since his days in Harold Matthews Cup, fans will be hoping to see a return to form and the NRL very soon. ? A deficit of 8 points for and against may come to haunt later in the year with this year being the tightest competition in living memory. An improvement in defence should see this eradicated.
So what does the second half behold for the Saints. Seven of their last twelve games will be played at home. In this period the club also receive their two byes. A testing road trip awaits in early August when the side takes on Rugby Leagues version of The Doomsday Double challenging North Queensland and Brisbane on consecutive weekends away from home. This trip could either set up a run at the title or leave the club eyeing off victories in their final two games at the clubs spiritual home Oki Jubilee Stadium to even make the finals.
However before that trip arises, the clubs origin players need to come out of a testing State of Origin series without too many lasting bruises. Origin has been particularly harsh on the Dragons in the last few years and all fans will be hoping for nothing less than an injury free series by all.
One thing is for sure, The Dragons will more than likely give their fans a few more thrills and spills before this season comes to an end, an ending they hope concludes with a lap of honour of Telstra Stadium on October 2.