The St. George Illawarra Dragons endured another season of learnings in 2022, as they look to build a premiership-pushing side for the future.
They finished the 2022 season in 10th, after being the most heavily tipped side to finish bottom and claim the wooden spoon in the pre-season.
However, amongst the experts, they were expected to improve upon their 12th placed finish in 2021 and make a push towards the finals, with a host of ins to the squad.
The Dragons started the season 1-4 and endured some tough defeats throughout the season.
In a tough middle period, the Dragons dropped their youthful players in favour of their more experienced campaigners.
They finished the season strong with three back-to-back wins, as they rose to finish two wins outside the top eight, in 10th.
It was the first time since 2018 that the Dragons have won 10 matches in a season, which is a positive they will look to build on.
Finishing position: 10th (12 wins, 12 losses)
There is one obvious aspect of this season that worked – Ben Hunt. Everything positive for the Dragons came through their star halfback, as he put in a shift week after week.
Furthermore, his linkup with the rest of the squad was important to get the Dragons out of their own end, as well as for their scoring plays at the other end of the field.
A mix of youth and experience worked eventually for the Dragons, as despite their experimentation with different player combos, everything positive came through Hunt.
What didn’t work?
Ironically, what worked for the Dragons also didn’t work for them this season – their reliance on Ben Hunt. As previously said, he created victories for his team through his individual performances.
The inconsistency of the Dragons throughout the season meant any finals charge was difficult.
They failed to beat any of the top five sides in the competition, while they also suffered losses to teams around them in the Rabbitohs and Broncos.
They will need to build a team which can create a platform through their forwards, and a solid defence if they are to challenge for the top eight next season.
Ben Hunt was the standout player this season, off the back of his qualities both with and without the ball. He scored six tries and helped his team control matches at both ends of the field.
His leadership was on full display as he helped the Dragons win matches they would not have otherwise.
Without him, they would have been closer to finishing toward the bottom of the table.
Matt Feagai was also a standout player for the Dragons this season. He crossed the line 10 times in 20 matches, including two doubles.
The second of these doubles came in the final match of the season against the Brisbane Broncos. The Broncos had to win to have any chance of making the top eight.
Feagai had already scored a try earlier in the match, and with the Dragons leading 14-10, he sealed the match in the 76th minute as he scored one of the solo tries of the year to break Brisbane hearts.
He evaded seven Broncos defenders as he ran from his own half to score, as the Dragons won 20-10.
The 21-year-old New Zealander will be a vital player for them next season, as he looks to build his career and continue to impress for his team.
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The highlight of the season for the Dragons must be their win over the Sydney Roosters in the traditional ANZAC Day clash.
In the 20th edition of the matchup, the Dragons were looking to win the cup for the first time since 2018.
They got off to a flying start, as they scored two tries in the first half to take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The Dragons were down to 15 players in the second half through injuries, as they looked to hold on to secure victory.
Against tiring bodies and with a determination to win yet again in this fixture, the Roosters shot back with two tries of their own.
Hunt had a large hand in both Dragons’ tries that day, as well as a 40/20 to get his side out of their own half near the end of the match.
He followed this up with a last-minute effort to knock down a ball headed for Daniel Tupou. He looked all but certain to score and win the match for the Roosters, with the score still 14-12 with little time to play.
Hunt’s effort ensured his side secured the win and the cup with a 14-12 victory over the Roosters.
The Dragons suffered a few heavy losses this season, such as their 48-14 loss to the Parramatta Eels, their 42-6 loss to the Melbourne Storm and their 54-26 loss to the Sydney Roosters.
However, the low of their season was in Round 17 against the Brisbane Broncos.
The Broncos fielded a young side, as they had 10 players missing due to Origin and injury.
In a match where the Dragons were missing Hunt, the match went back and forth until ultimately, the Broncos came away with a 32-18 win.
At the time, the Broncos were fifth, while the Dragons were eight, as they were both looking to make a charge towards a top eight spot and a place in the finals.
Ultimately, the Dragons were unable to stop a resilient Brisbane side, as they suffered one of their worst losses of the season.
Top off-season priority
The priority for the Dragons this upcoming off-season is to build a team to work under the leadership of captain, Ben Hunt.
The halfback has been the Dragons’ best player this season finishing third in the Dally M Medal for player of the year. This is despite his team missing out on the finals, after finishing 10th this season.
Building a team around him, one where he can shine further with a supporting cast of hard-working players around him, will be vital next season.
His general play in attack and defence, including his game management and ability to set up his teammates, has won his side matches they wouldn’t have won otherwise this season.
The epitome of this is the ANZAC Day clash in Round 7 between the Dragons and the Sydney Roosters, as previously discussed. He was rewarded for his efforts in the Anzac Day match with the Ashton Collier Spirit of Anzac Medal for his man-of-the-match performance.
Efforts like this, combined with his leadership and experience, will be priceless for the Dragons moving forward.
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