14/04/2024

The Dragons had a strong season with a not so pleasant finish. (Photo: NRL; Design: Will Cuckson)

The Dragons fell short in the semi-final, losing back-to-back games to the Newcastle Knights in horrible performances.

With a great start to the season, the Dragons looked like they were ready to go all the way back to the grand final before a poor finish to the season.

Finishing position: Third (three wins, two losses – semi-final)

What worked?

The Dragons’ plays from scrums near their opponents’ try line were the best executed in the league.

Against the Eels, they succeeded multiple times from a scrum and managed to break through the Eels’ line to score easy points. 

The Dragons were also able to turn their defence into rewarding offence, and scoring using their speed. 

What didn’t?

The Dragons had difficulty in defending teams with a lot of off-ball movement. Against the Knights two weeks in a row, their defence in the middle got exposed trying to defend the runs from the forward pack and the movement of Tamika Upton.

Their try-line defence saw teams capitalise on overloading the side of the Dragons’ line they were attacking and targeting the corner.

This play from Jesse Southwell from dummy is a great example, where she finds Jessica Gentle on debut on the edge with a high and long cut-out pass that saw Teagan Berry rush up off her line too quickly.

Who impressed?

Tara McGrath-West made a strong impression in her rookie season in the red V jersey. 

Being a top five RLPA rookie of the year candidate, she has impressed her peers and even her coach.

In Round 4 against the Broncos at AAMI Park, she ran 230 metres off the bench playing 40 minutes, making the NRLW record for an interchange player.

Averaging 115 running metres per game and 42 post-contact metres a game, while making 18 tackles a game in 35 minutes per game, McGrath-West is a strong presence in the middle pack and has a bright future to be one of the best front-rowers in the game.

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Season highlight:

The Dragons kicked their season off with two wins in a row against the Titans and Eels.

Against the Titans, Emma Tonegato shone. She was out the back from fast perfectly-timed ball movement, scored multiple tries in front of their fans, and set up other tries up for her teammates, catching the tight inside Titans defence.

The left edge offence was powerful in these first two weeks, being able to shift the ball to their speedy and talented ball carriers for open space.

The golden point win over the Broncos was a back-and-forth game. The Dragons needed to finish it in their favour, and executed their offence at a higher quality down the stretch than Brisbane did. 

Scoring tries in the middle showed the dummy half-work between Keeley Davis and Quincy Dodd that the Broncos couldn’t match.

Their try-line set plays allowed them to build a comfortable and ideal field position to take the lead in the first half.

The field goal from the first set of extra time allowed Rachael Pearson to close the game quickly, as the Broncos were close to ending the game on the buzzer before the end of regulation time.

Season lowlight:

The back-to-back games against the Newcastle Knights were the lowest point for this team. 

Their left edge offence was shut down and the off-ball movement from Tonegato was stopped in its tracks, allowing the Knights to play comfortable offence as their defence was too much for the Dragons.

In both games, the Knights dominated in attacking the middle third of the Dragons’ line, coming up with unpredictable plays on the edge that the Dragons could not keep up with.

The constant scoring pressure from the Knights from Millie Boyle and Kirra Dibb near the end of the first half would extend the lead up to 24 points by the 56th minute, ending the Dragons’ season in consecutive sittings. 

Top off-season priority 

The Dragons need to explore using their middle forward pack players in yardage-gaining positions and allow the backline players to play from the quick play-the-ball and push the pace and move the ball side to side continuously.

Using Tonegato in the line and allowing her to carry the ball and set up plays instead of using her as a decoy out the back could also open up unpredictability on the offensive end and pressure defences constantly, especially when the attack is up and aggressive and continuous from the previous play.

Defensively, teams like Parramatta won with a lot of effort and played in groups of three in each tackle, with two making a tackle and one backing them up. If the Dragons can implement this strategy, they can win the effort areas that got them to the grand final in the 2020 season.

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