Only a trial? Maybe. Very disappointing? Definitely.
In the two days since St George Illawarra?s loss to a fired up South Sydney in the 22nd Charity Shield, the press has been filled with talk of the resurgence of the Rabbitohs & what the result means for them, but what can Dragons fans take from the game & what does it mean for us? I believe that the defeat ultimately came down to one thing: a lack of mental preparation. This is a very scary proposition as it is the exact thing that has scuttled Dragons title hopes each year since 2000.
Saints fans are a demanding lot & a loss to a team many of our supporters expect to challenge strongly for the Wooden Spoon does not sit well at all. To put things in perspective, the last two South Sydney wins in the corresponding fixtures prior to 2005 were in 1999 & 1992. The bottom line is that this is a game we expect to win. It is precisely this attitude that cost Saints the Shield this season. I very much doubt it is a mistake that will be made again.
One of the most obvious assessments of Nathan Brown?s men on Saturday night was the lack of commitment shown. Brown summed it up at the after match press conference: ?It's not so much the result - just the (lack of) pride and commitment we showed which was disappointing". If Saints had matched the Bunnies mentally, then I am in no doubt that the result would?ve been different. This inability to get ?Fired Up? for games has been an Achilles Heel for the club for a number of years now, and judging by Saturday night?s effort, not a whole lot has changed. Saints have the hardware in place to challenge seriously for the Premiership, if not take it out, but without a change in mindset, a Grand Final win is as far off as ever.
St George Illawarra have had an average preparation for 2005 since bowing out of 2004 in bitter circumstances at the hands of Penrith. The off-season has been hampered by injuries to key players as well as the loss of key players in Riddell, Kite, Blacklock & Withers. In their place the club has recruited poorly. In essence, the Dragons are a weaker squad now than they were in 2004. This is why a proper mental mind-set is a must.
Whether Nathan Brown has to bring in extra help to work on the mental side of the team, or whether it?s a little soul searching that the players themselves must do - Something must be done very soon because with each passing year our stars get older & throws of the dice are running out. Talk from the coach & players about how ?anything less than a Premiership is a failure? is all well & good but words without deed don?t count for much.
It became painfully clear early on in proceedings on Saturday night that Saints lacked cohesion & commitment. Add the injury toll that saw up to 13 first choice players missing & the team really faced an uphill battle against a more enthusiastic opposition. There is no need to be pushing the panic button after just one trial but surely it?s better if we?re addressing these issues at this juncture of the season rather than having our players wondering ?what might?ve been? on the end of season trip, as in 2004.
There is another trial against Manly at Albion Park this Saturday evening & three weeks later the Dragons open the season away to the defending Premiers, Canterbury.
Let?s just hope they have their heads screwed on by then.