01/03/2024

The Dragons celebrate a try (Photo/CompareTV)

The Dragons head into 2022 with an abundance of exciting young players and experienced veterans. A mix they hope will see them play finals in 2022.

The Dragons head into 2022 in a tricky situation, with an abundance of exciting young players matched with plenty of experienced veterans, in a season where they’ll be hot favourites to finish last.

Last year

After flying high to a 4-1 start last season, the Dragons’ fizzled out and went on to lose 15 of the last 18 games, as a mix of injuries, scandals and suspensions took its toll on a side in limbo.

The Dragons were shattering all pre-season expectations in the first five games, as many considered this side favourites for the wooden spoon. However, it went out of control very early as many of the senior players were caught breaking Covid-19 protocols – ending any finals hope for the side in 2021.

Paul Vaughan was sensationally sacked as over 12 players were handed fines and suspensions as a result. 

As the season spiralled out of control towards the end, Anthony Griffin hooked some former key players including Corey Norman and Matt Dufty, in favour of a spark of youth with the likes of Jayden Sullivan, Talatau Amone and Tyrell Sloan lighting up the dull Dragons.

Aside from the poor on-field performances, Tariq Sims stood out above the rest as he played a key role in helping the NSW Blues regain the State of Origin shield and became a senior leader in his state and club side.

Although the side struggled massively throughout the majority of the season, the young trio of Dragons stars gave the Red V faithful many reasons to be excited about the 2022 season.

Squad changes

Ins:

George Burgess (Wigan Warriors), Jack Gosiewski (Manly Sea Eagles), Moses Suli (Manly Sea Eagles), Jaydn Su’A (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Tautau Moga (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Aaron Woods (Cronulla Sharks), Francis Molo (North Queensland Cowboys)

Outs:

Gerard Beale (released), Billy Brittain (released), Hayden Lomax (released), Corey Norman (retired), Trent Merrin (retired), Brayden Williame (Rugby Union), Matt Dufty (Cantebury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Paul Vaughan (Cantebury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Cameron McInnes (Cronulla Sharks), Jordan Periera (Brisbane Broncos), Adam Clune (Newcastle Knights), Kaide Ellis (Wigan Warriors)

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Track watch

Dragons’ youngster Tyrell Sloan has continued to build off his strong end to last season as he looks set to secure the fullback spot in 2022.

Sloan recently extended his stay with the Red V and was promoted to the senior squad after spending last season on a developmental deal, bouncing between reserve and first grade.

The 19-year-old has impressed in pre-season training thus far and has raised his value as one of the most promising stars in the NRL.

Sloan’s pre-season efforts were on full display during the NRL All-Stars game when he came off the bench to score for the Indigenous All Stars.

Along with Sloan, new recruit George Burgess looks like he’s in for a big season as he continues to get back into shape after a career-altering hip surgery.

The Englishman has stated that he’s in the best shape of his career and has never felt better, for a Dragons side that was desperate for some experience and leadership in the forward pack, Burgess could prove to be the missing piece in the puzzle for coach Griffin.

Although the majority of the positions have already been decided, there are two big spots yet to be confirmed.

The forward pack looks stacked this year, however with talk Jack Bird will move to the second-row, the incumbent Tariq Sims may have to move to lock in order to fit in marquee signing Jaydn Su’A.

Su’A was stellar for the Rabbitohs last year and capped off his impressive year with an origin cap for the Maroons.

Sims has proved his versatility playing at lock before, however it is clear to see his best position is in the second-row.

Anthony Griffin has another selection headache in the form of his utility, with Moses Mbye and Jayden Sullivan set to battle it out for the final bench spot.

Sullivan proved his worth last year in the 14 jersey, scoring two tries in six games as an undersized hooker and utility. 

However with Mbye’s recent decline in form, Griffin could look to one of his young stars to bring the x-factor off the bench.

On the other hand, considering the money being paid to Mbye it is hard to see him being left out of the side.

What to expect

The majority of NRL fans have put the Dragons as their favourite to finish last considering how they fizzled out last year, however Griffin has combined a quality amount of veterans alongside some much needed youth.

This mixture of playing styles saw the Dragons have some success in a limited quantity of games.

This season could easily go one of two ways, if they fail to find chemistry with the abundance of new signings, it would be easy to see them finish towards the bottom.

However, if this team can build on the flashes of brilliance they produced in late 2021, they could also push for the top eight and shock the league in the process.

Griffin has a tough task on his hands, developing the future cornerstones of the franchise whilst remaining competitive enough to keep his veteran stars happy.

It’s a tough line to balance, however Griffin has done this before when he was coaching the Penrith Panthers.

Griffin managed to play veteran stars such as, James Maloney and James Tamou whilst ushering in the future of the franchise with players like Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards and James Fisher-Harris.

If Griffin can replicate this success, the Dragons could be in for a Cinderella season, resulting in a miraculous finals run.

The Dragons have similar players to replicate this blueprint and cannot be ruled out for a finals spot, if all the pieces fall into place.

It’s a big year for?

Ben Hunt

As the second highest paid player in the NRL, Ben Hunt has been heavily scrutinised since he signed a mega deal with the Dragons in 2018.

In the second-last year of a six-year contract, Hunt has consistently been flying under the radar for a Dragons’ side that is constantly under-performing.

Now with a group of young stars eager to take over, Hunt must take another step forward and lead his youthful teammates in what could be a turbulent season.

The Queensland representative faces a new challenge now, missing many of his experienced teammates in key positions, mainly the former spine of Cameron McInnes, Matt Dufty and Corey Norman.

Without these experienced players, Hunt now shoulders the majority of the leadership responsibility and as the club captain he will face the majority of criticism if the season goes out of control.

Hunt has struggled with these issues in the past and took some time off in 2018 to focus on his mental health as a result of the constant criticism.

The 31-year-old also still has to prove his durability if he wishes to remain as the highest paid player at the club – Hunt spent six-weeks on the sideline last year with a broken leg.

However, if the skipper can perform at the elite level he showed at Brisbane in 2017, he will undoubtedly be the most crucial player for the Dragons’ success in 2022 and finally prove to the media and fans alike that he is worth the million dollar price tag.

Biggest unanswered question

How will Tariq Sims’ contract talk affect the team?

The NRL world was sent into shock at the end of the regular season in 2021 when the Dragons announced that they would not be re-signing Tariq Sims and that he was free to leave the club with one year remaining on his deal.

Fans were in disbelief by this decision as Sims had regularly been the hardest worker and best player on the park.

Sims was also on the back of a stellar showing in Origin and was seen by many to be one of the cornerstones of the Dragons to lead them through this tough period.

The contract situation should be sorted before the season starts, having issues like this  lingering over the club in the past has proved to be enough to derail an encouraging season.

Rumours suggested that the club would turn their attention to a younger second-rower to fill his void in 2023, with Villiame Kikau the hot favourite to sign on big money.

However with Kikau committed to the Bulldog’s in 2023, the Dragons may be forced to swallow their pride and attempt to re-sign Sims.

Whether Sims would accept a new contract is another story, it may be obvious but this situation must be solved before the season starts, as there is still no clarity into the future of Sims or who his replacement will be.

Coach pressure index 

Low

Prior to his recent contract extension, Anthony Griffin would have been under medium pressure, however given the extra year on his deal, it’s hard to see him under any pressure this season.

This extension gave fans the indication that they should not be expecting much and that the board will not base Griffin’s future based off this season.

Griffin proved to be a solid coach until all hell broke loose last year as he struggled to control his side.

A lot of fans were puzzled by the decision to give him an extra year considering how the season went last year, however the ball is now in his court to prove he has earned it and as such, lower the pressure on his job.

Predicted round one lineup

Sloan and Talatau Amone are set to usher in the new era of Dragon’s youngsters as they are almost certainties to start come round one.

Mbye is the unlucky one who is likely to miss out, due to the talent and versatility the young Sullivan brings as the utility.

Bird’s rumoured move to the back-row should be confirmed come round one, with Sims moving into the enforcer role as the lock.

Ladder range

12th-14th

This season should be a chemistry building year as the young core begins to experience first-grade week in and week out.

This position on the ladder would be seen as a success considering where many are predicting them to place.

A finals birth seems unlikely, however it also hard to see them in the bottom couple of places purely based off the talent and depth at their disposal.

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