NRL rugby league football yeah
NRL rugby league football yeah

Premiership window is still open for Saints

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA were first as late as Round 16 and in the top four as late as Round 23, but some late wobbles had them drop to seventh before rebounding with a terrific win over Brisbane and a narrow loss to Souths.

At the start of the year a second week finals exit would have been good enough for most Dragons fans but after leading the competition for 14 weeks and looking like a premiership calibre side it may have fallen a little flat.

The title window is still well and truly open for St George Illawarra, but things didn't quite break their way when they had to.

WHERE THEY FINISHED

7th (second week finals exit)

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The trappings of success. St George Illawarra's brilliant start meant they had the heaviest representative contingent in the league with Gareth Widdop, Ben Hunt, James Graham, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell all playing Test or Origin football.

It precipitated a tough stretch where Saints lost six of eight including heavy losses to Parramatta and Canterbury.

Hunt attracted plenty of attention in his first season with Saints. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images.
Hunt attracted plenty of attention in his first season with Saints. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images.

After the loss to the Bulldogs the Red V were friendless and written off for the finals. Paul Vaughan was lost to injury and Gareth Widdop looked a shadow of the player he'd been early in the year. Saints managed to rebound in the finals and will take some hard-earned lessons about managing player workload into next season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Saints showed that when fit and firing, they are a side that can win the grand final.

They got off to a hot start, winning eight of their first nine, and have landed on a well-balanced and dangerous roster based around one of the best forward packs in the game.

Jack de Belin and Tyson Frizell both enjoyed career years and Tariq Sims was one of the most improved players in the competition. Ben Hunt played plenty of good footy in his first season for the Dragons while Matt Dufty took some big steps at the back.

Frizell was the best backrower in the competition this season. AAP Image/Darren England.
Frizell was the best backrower in the competition this season. AAP Image/Darren England.

Zac Lomax has also proven to be a real find and played well beyond his 18 years when injected late in the season.

Assuming the club can find the right replacement for Nene Macdonald if he does head to North Queensland, they have the right amount of talent, experience and quality, as well as the attitude, to challenge anybody in the league.

STATS THAT SUM UP THE SEASON

St George Illawarra spent 22 of 25 regular season rounds in the top four.

KEY AREA THEY NEED TO IMPROVE

The Dragons need to stay healthy at the right time of the season. There's nothing they can do to make that happen, they just need to have a bit more luck. Inject Paul Vaughan and Gareth Widdop into that team that played Saints and who knows what could have happened. Widdop's slick kicking game and organisation would have gone a long way in the final minutes.

Jack de Belin enjoyed a career year. AAP Image/Craig Golding.
Jack de Belin enjoyed a career year. AAP Image/Craig Golding.

A secondary concern should be managing their stars through the representative period - no doubt the coaching staff and high performance unit will take plenty of lessons from this season. The likes of Blake Lawrie, Jeremy Latimore and Luciano Leilua mean Saints have the depth to rest some of their stars when required.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

The victory over the Roosters on Anzac Day was one of the club's best regular season performances in several years but the 48-18 belting of Brisbane in the finals when all and sundry had written them off was a special afternoon.

LOWLIGHT OF THE SEASON

The losses to Parramatta and Canterbury by a combined margin of 78-4 was a low moment for the club.

Vaughan was missed after he was injured. Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images.
Vaughan was missed after he was injured. Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images.

BIG NAME RECRUITS

Korbin Sims (Brisbane)

BIG NAME LOSSES

Leeson Ah Mau (Warriors), Jason Nightingale (retired)

2019: BEST POSSIBLE SCENARIO

Everyone stays healthy, the club navigates the rep period and win the competition. Winning a premiership needs a little luck in the health department, and if the Dragons hold fast the big prize should be their goal.

2019: WORST POSSIBLE SCENARIO

A fast start is undone by the middle of the season and the club limps to the finish.

COACH SAFETY RATING: 8

This was the best season of Paul McGregor's coaching career and the players clearly respond to his methods. He has built the squad he wants and deserves the chance to show what he can do with them.



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