As a rugby league collective, we’ve been reticent to give credence to a St George Illawarra Dragons title push for some time.
They let us down last year. Just when outsiders and neutrals started to buy into the hype, the bandwagon with a big Red V paint on the sides crashed brutally and ended without even a finals appearance.
Flash forward 12 months and after another good start, we were all a little more skeptical. Could we really buy back in to the same side that had capitulated and left us all speechless last season?It took a little more time, but as a group of rugby league fans, I think we’re starting to understand that this Dragons side is not just a good unit, they’re the benchmark of the competition.
Right now, nine weeks into the season, the St George Illawarra Dragons are the best team in the league.
Adding extra quality to a great side
A cast of stars which included Gareth Widdop, Matt Dufty, Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin and the almost unstoppable Paul Vaughan was complimented perfectly by the additions of James Graham and Ben Hunt and the ride has been a smooth one since for the once-mighty Dragons.
Hunt, still thought of by many as the player that ‘dropped the Grand Final’ for Brisbane a couple of years ago, has been the sublime director of attack, taking control of the kicking game and direction of play. This has freed up the creative spark that is Gareth Widdop and the Dragons look a far more potent side for it.
Graham has added an extra layer of steel to a forward pack capable of dominating any on its day. The Englishman is as hard-nosed and gritty as they come and his fight and desire to get stuck in are second to none in a league famed for the grind.
Make no mistake, when Craig Bellamy spoke with the media at his post-match press conference on Sunday evening, the champion coach, touted as one of the best minds in the modern game, was well aware of a seismic shift across the National Rugby League.
The Dragons mean business
The Dragons are the big dogs in town now and they know it.
“What we took from today is they’re the benchmark,” Bellamy said. “We know now that we’ve got some work to do. I just said that to the players in there. Because they are the benchmark, there’s no doubt about that. They’ve been playing great footy all season and if we want to play some footy in September we are going to have to improve.”
Make no mistake, the Dragons are the real deal in 2018 and there is every chance that a side once so famed for their inability to convert regular season dominance could be the team to beat come Grand Final day in October.
When Dennis Carnahan penned the parody song ‘Puff, the St George Dragon,’ he included the line “everybody knows deep down that Dragons always choke.”
It was right then. It was briefly shelved when Wayne Bennett and company delivered a long-awaited premiership in 2010 before it was quickly back in vogue. It may no longer hold that ring of truth if Paul McGregor and his side can get the job done this season.
Will the Dragons win the 2018 NRL premiership? Let us know in the comments below.