St.George-Illawarra Dragons

St.George-Illawarra are still awaiting serious results to emerge from serious promise. In 2004, the Dragons showed signs of transferring their tag as one of the best teams on paper to a being good team where it matters on the field. But the underlying problem of consistency and the necessary luck with injuries still evades the joint venture club.

The Dragons lost a thrilling finals clash in Week 1 against a hungrier Penrith Panthers unit by 30-31. The Dragons deserved to lose after being blown off the park by an early mountain men assault of 24 points. But optimism was high because the Dragons would be able to field their best possible team the following week. But next week never came. The Dragons were eliminated after Melbourne and North Queensland caused finals upsets. The remaining clubs breathed a sigh of relief that a team of so much potential was no longer in the race.

Unfortunately the word ?potential? means little unless it is built on by performance. The Dragons looked to be coming of age early in the season when they walloped Newcastle, the Wests Tigers and Penrith in successive weeks. Their 44-18 taming of the Panthers at WIN Stadium, was an example of how the Dragons can destroy teams when they get on a roll. Wearing Steelers commemorative jerseys, the Saints scored 4 tries in a 10 minute period in the second half. Centre Matt Cooper scored four tries that day and continued to entertain home crowds with his incisive footwork.

The Dragons built a reputation throughout the season for putting teams to the sword.

Nine of their fourteen victories were by 20 points or more. The flipside was that when they lost, it was because they failed to click in attack, in nine of their eleven losses they failed to reach 20 points. They only strung together four consecutive victories at the end of the regular season. The stirring 36-34 comeback win from 10-34 down against Manly at Oki Jubilee Oval was all the Dragons qualities rolled into one. They are brilliant and unpredictable at times, but they also look disinterested at other times.

The club enjoyed a strong representation in State of Origin. Six players for game three, including Matt Cooper, Mark Gasnier, Jason Ryles, Trent Barrett, Shaun Timmins and Brent Kite was a record Origin representation for the joint venture.

Many fans and experts believed that the absence of key players such as Gasnier, Ryles, Barrett, Bailey & Thompson for extended periods due to origin commitments and injury problems denied the Dragons the ability to perform to their optimum on a consistent basis. Coach Nathan Brown had the opportunity to give more game time to youngsters such as Ashton Sims, Justin Poore, Ben Creagh, Nick Youngquest and Matthew Head. Head in particular stood out at halfback with an impressive left footed kicking game and good playmaking instincts. The Dragons youth brigade stole the show in a 37-6 smashing of the Eels at Parramatta in Round 11. The Dragons were missing 11 regulars but such is the depth of talent at the club it didn?t matter.

BEST WIN: The Dragons were a great side on their day in 2004, and most of their wins were eye catching. As good as they were against Penrith earlier in the season, their 50-0 drubbing of an in form Wests Tigers outfit was one of their most complete performances. The Tigers never got a look in and the Dragons didn?t relent in defence or attack throughout the 80 minutes.

PREDICTION FOR 2005: Nathan Brown and his star studded lineup will be hoping for a better run with injuries. Stability of lineup may help eradicate the inconsistency factor of seasons past. The Dragons will miss the impact of Mark ?Piggy? Riddell who heads to Parramatta, while Brent Kite will be a good pick up for Manly. They haven?t bought any major players for 2005, but the likes of Best, Manu, Ennis and Torrens will increase the squad?s depth. I expect the Dragons to improve again next year and give the title a serious shake. They are very determined to live up to their potential. They know that only real on-field success will make their fans happy in 2005.

Match Records 2004 ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 Canberra Raiders Oki Jubilee Stadium LOSS 12-21 2 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium WIN 16-10 3 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park LOSS 6-34 4 Newcastle Knights WIN Stadium WIN 48-2 5 Wests Tigers Telstra Stadium WIN 39-10 6 Penrith Panthers WIN Stadium WIN 44-18 7 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 8-11 8 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park WIN 42-12 9 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval LOSS 10-21 10 Bulldogs WIN Stadium LOSS 12-38 11 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium WIN 37-6 12 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium LOSS 22-24 13 North Queensland Cowboys WIN Stadium LOSS 12-14 14 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium WIN 28-8 15 Wests Tigers Oki Jubilee Stadium WIN 50-0 16 South Sydney Rabbitohs The S.C.G. WIN 52-12 17 BYE 18 Brisbane Broncos WIN Stadium LOSS 14-28 19 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 14-18 20 Cronulla Sharks Oki Jubilee Stadium WIN 26-14 21 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium LOSS 10-34 22 Melbourne Storm WIN Stadium WIN 34-10 23 New Zealand Warriors WIN Stadium WIN 28-10 24 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium WIN 24-22 25 Manly Sea Eagles Oki Jubilee Stadium WIN 36-34 26 BYE Qualifying Final Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium LOSS 30-31

14 WINS, 11 LOSSES. FOR: 654 AGAINST: 446 POSITION: Qualifying Finalists, 5th in Minor Premiership

St.George-Illawarra ? 2005 Player Movement

Gains: Michael Ennis (Knights, 2yrs) Colin Best (Hull UK, 2yrs), Lee Te Maari (North Sydney, 2yrs), Albert Torrens (Manly, 2yrs), William Topou (Roosters), Willie Manu (Souths, 1yr), Shannon Stitt (St Brendans College, 1yr)

Losses: Michael Howell (Raiders, 2yrs), David Howell (Raiders, 2yrs), Brett Firman (Roosters, 3yrs), Mark Riddell (Eels, 3yrs), Brent Kite (Manly, 4yrs), Brett White (Storm), Beau Scott (Sharks, 2yrs), Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs, 1yr), Nathan Blacklock (Hull, UK, 2yrs), John Olzard (Burleigh, QLD cup), Henry Perenara (Eels, 2yrs), Shaun Vidito (Eels), Willie Leyshon (Retirement), Andrew Frew (Retirement), John Carlaw (Released), Tony Jensen (Released), Josh Essex (Easts Tigers), Lincoln Withers (Canberra)

By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist