Rugby League has been a business for some time now and with that comes forward planning for seasons ahead. But it’s never a sign of confidence in the current coach when your club hotly pursues another clipboard holder prior to the beginning of the season, even he is Craig Bellamy.
Dragons coach Steve Price must feel a little unwanted right now, with CEO Peter Doust offering no certainties beyond this year even after missing out on the Melbourne-based guru:
“Even though we are yet to start the 2013 season, we are aware that for all parties, a firm decision for 2014 would be best made sooner rather than later, but we are not putting timeframes around such a key decision.
“We will continue to work through the options and circumstances thoroughly and will communicate when appropriate, out of respect for all associated and involved.”
This uncertainty in the coach’s tenure will prove a major stumbling block for season 2013, with speculation surely set to continue well into the year until a resolution presents itself.
So it comes as no surprise that the Dragons were well beaten in the Charity Shield on Friday night, albeit against a South Sydney outfit that is clearly top 4 material. Besides a 20 minute interval just after halftime, the Dragons were menaced by the Rabbitohs who looked capable of much more.
It also distracts from the reality at St George Illawarra, which is one of generational change for the first time in some years.
Club Captain Ben Hornby and veteran Dean Young slid into retirement at the close of 2012, leaving a gulf of experience that will be sorely felt. It’s a welcome sign to see them remain in coaching roles with the Dragons youth teams however. Beau Scott’s defection to Newcastle is another blow, although you could make the case that all three players had disappointing seasons culminating in the Dragons missing the finals for the first time in 5 years.
The club has acquired players in positions that were lacking, such as Gerard Beale, who looks set to claim the custodian role. Beale is no mug, having 63 matches with the Broncos to his name, as well as 4 Test caps for New Zealand.
Young halfback Josh Drinkwater joins from the northern beaches and looks set to place pressure on Nathan Fien in the starting line-up, with the recent injury to Kyle Stanley ruling him out for 2013 another disappointment that needs to be overcome. Toyota Cup graduate Adam Quinlan looks like he might fill the breach there.
Keeping the backline honest will be Chase Stanley and young guns Evander Cummins and Nathan Green, who has already tasted first grade.
The Dragons have also recruited in the forwards with Bronson Harrison (another Kiwi International), Tyson Frizell and Michael Henderson moving to the club. They are joined by existing fringe NRL players Jack De Belin, Atela Vea, Leeson Ah Mau, Will Matthews and Jack Stockwell who will be pushing for spots in the first grade line-up, making 2013 a competitive season in the top 17.
The big question is will it be enough? My answer is I don’t think so.
Whilst their defence remains stout, St George Illawarra’s biggest issue is attack and the side appears to have gained little in that regard from the off season. The sweeping play to the left made famous by Darius Boyd was given a shot with laughable results on Friday night. Soward tried hard to penetrate but struggled, Fien looked ineffective, and it’s too early to tell with Drinkwater. Plenty of hopes are pinned on Beale, who was sound at the back in the Shield.
Of course it doesn’t help when your pack is dominated, and until the Dragons get their full compliment on the field they will find themselves in this situation. But with most forwards on the lighter side, displays like Friday night may be the norm rather than the exception.
As things with the coach drag on, more pressure to produce results will gather. From there it can go two ways: Price makes wholesale changes to under-performing players or he makes way for someone new.
All that distraction will prove a bit too much for the boys in the big Red V in 2013.
2013 Gains: Gerard Beale (Brisbane Broncos), Josh Drinkwater (Manly Sea Eagles), Tyson Frizell (Cronulla Sharks), Bronson Harrison (Canberra Raiders), Michael Henderson (Gold Coast Titans)
2013 Losses: Beau Scott (Newcastle Knights), David Gower (Manly Sea Eagles), Jeremy Latimore (Penrith Panthers), Jack Buchanan (Wests Tigers), Ben Musolino (Manly Sea Eagles), Ben Hornby, Dean Young, Josh Miller (retired).
Dragons Top 17: 1. Gerrard Beale 2. Brett Morris 3. Matt Cooper 4. Daniel Vidot 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Jamie Soward 7. Nathan Fien 8. Michael Weyman 9. Mitch Rein 10. Dan Hunt 11. Ben Creagh 12. Matt Prior 13. Trent Merrin
Interchange: 14. Cameron King 15. Bronson Harrison 16. Jack De Belin 17. Tyson Frizell