May 18, 2018 by admin
Shift: Jason Nightingale may make back to the wing next year.HAD you told Dragons coach Steve Price at the start of this year his side would finish ahead of Wests Tigers, Newcastle and the Warriors, chances are he would have been thrilled.
Unfortunately, while St George Illawarra finished ahead of those teams, they failed to make the finals, making it their worst season since 2007.
Their performances in recent weeks — where they piled on 67 points — showed there was a real fighting spirit among the playing group.
Perhaps their attack finally ‘‘clicked’’ or it was a case of playing without pressure. Either way, Price can take solace that his troops had a dig in every match.
‘‘We’ve had some great performances,’’ Price said.
‘‘If you take away the game against Canterbury earlier in the year we’ve been pretty consistent.
‘‘We’ve competed in every game and I can’t be more proud of the guys in that regard. [But] we’ve got a lot of work to do with our offence next year.’’
Price will need the Dragons to start well next season — his coaching career depends on it.
‘‘We finished the season with two good wins,’’ Price said. ‘‘It’s important to roll into the pre-season with a bit of confidence.’’
The Dragons now prepare for life without Ben Hornby and Dean Young following a 29-8 win against ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
The Dragons failed to recover from Tim Moltzen’s backflip to join the club as the player to replace Darius Boyd.
Moltzen was the ball-playing option the Dragons lacked this year.
Jason Nightingale, Kyle Stanley and Brett Morris all had their shot, with Nightingale finishing in the No.1 jersey.
‘‘The high ball has never been my weakness,’’ Nightingale said. ‘‘It’s the other parts of fullback that I’m looking to improve, like my support play and linking up in the backline.
‘‘I’ve improved at the back.’’
The signing of Nightingale’s Kiwi teammate Gerard Beale is likely to shift the Renown United junior back to the wing, with Beale starting the pre-season at fullback.
The pair roomed together in part of New Zealand’s tour of Great Britain last year with Nightingale and fellow Kiwi Nathan Fien recommending Beale to Price.
‘‘I like him as a player and a person,’’ Nightingale said.
‘‘Pricey has an eye for talent and me and Fiensy told said he wasn’t a bad bloke who looks like a talented player.’’
Who will partner Jamie Soward in the halves?
Soward has enjoyed controlling the team from halfback in recent weeks when Hornby has filled in at hooker.
Earlier in his career he wasn’t ready to be chief play maker but Soward’s time has come to switch to No.7 with Kyle Stanley playing his preferred five-eighth position.
Soward along with Stanley, Fien plus the arrival of Manly under-20s half Josh Drinkwater gives Price options.
‘‘Kyle’s been waiting for a couple of years so I’m sure he’ll get first crack,’’ Soward said.
‘‘I was a little bit closer to the ball and I liked getting my hands on it a little bit more.
‘‘Our attack [in recent weeks] has been about running hard and off-loading and pushing blokes up.
‘‘We didn’t over complicate it too much…that’s a positive moving forward to next year.’’
Having spent his fledging NRL career being a backline utility, Stanley is likely to spend the off-season settled in the halves — if he recovers from his third knee reconstruction.’’
Nightingale added: ‘‘It’s obvious where Kyle will slot in next season.’’
Hornby has captained the side since 2009 with Young as vice-captain. Ben Creagh, who celebrated his 200th game on Sunday, is the early front-runner.
‘‘There will definitely be a changing of the guard,’’ Nightingale said.
‘‘There weren’t two bigger leaders at the club.
‘‘Benny Creagh is a lot younger than some people think and still has a lot of years left. He has really come on as a leader.
‘‘A lot of people can step into that void.
‘‘Brett [Morris] has been doing that in the past few weeks and I’d like to think that I’ve started doing that.’’
Beale and dynamic Cronulla forward Tyson Frizzle are the Dragons only recruits so far.
Drinkwater looms as a likely addition but the club still sits well short of the 2013 salary cap limit following the departure of Young, Hornby, Beau Scott (Newcastle) and Jeremy Latimore (Panthers).
Illawarra Cutters player of the year David Gower has been linked to Melbourne.
Fringe players Nick Emmett, Denan Kemp, Jake Marketo and Atelea Vea remain unsigned.
¦ The Dragons under-20s qualified for the finals with a 38-28 win against Parramatta on Sunday. They play Penrith at ANZ Stadium on Friday from 3.15pm.
Illawarra Cutters play their first NSW Cup semi-final against Newtown at WIN Jubilee Oval on Sunday at 1pm.
How would you rank the Dragons year? Where do they need to improve?
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