2007 is arguably the worst season ever for the St George Illawarra Dragons.
In finishing 13th, and on 20 competition points, the Dragons narrowly managed to avoid the wooden spoon. The last-placed Panthers ended up on 18 points but did so with a differential of -68. The Dragons, struggling with a differential of -78, were just one loss away from adding the spoon to an already woeful season.
There have been worse seasons for the joint venture partners. Since their formation in 1982, Illawarra have at times struggled at the lower end of the ladder, the Steelers finishing with the wooden spoon three times. The St George club too has seen darker days, some 70 seasons ago. Indeed, the last time a St George team saw the wooden spoon was in 1938, finishing last in an eight team competition. It still remains, however, that since the club's formation in 1921, no first grade rugby league team bearing the Dragon emblem has ever finished 13th on the competition ladder.
The Dragons season of 2007 was consistently poor. The team only managed two consecutive wins on one occasion, in rounds 16-17. After defeating eventual grand finalists the Sea Eagles 26-22 and backing up to thrash the Raiders 58-16 one week later, the Dragons gave fans slim hope that the annual charge towards the semis was still on the cards. But in round 18, Saints came crashing back to earth after suffering a 44-16 defeat at hands of the Warriors. For all intents and purposes, the Dragons of 2007 were a write-off and from that moment on, the question was one of survival.
So what are the root causes for this dismal season?
Dragons officials will point to an inexperienced squad being hit hard by injuries. It is true that Saints have had another season of players being repeatedly sidelined. When Mark Gasnier suffered a pectoral injury in the pre-season Charity Shield clash, it set the pattern for a horrendous run of injuries in the opening rounds of competition.
In 2007, Saints used no less than 32 first graders, including 11 first grade debutants. To put this in perspective, you have to go back to 1995 to find the last time a Dragons side used more than 30 first grade players in a season. The most players a Dragons team has ever used in one season were 35 (1971, 1982 and 1983). The Dragons club of 2007 busted through the 30 player barrier after just 12 rounds of competition.
Nevertheless, the casualty ward only tells part of the story. In the latter part of the season, with players coming back from injury, the Dragons still couldn