The St George Illawarra Dragons will be an intriguing team to follow in 2022, with a stack of young talent, attacking potential and some off-season recruitment decisions which can only be described as odd.
The famous Red V come into 2022 on the back of a season where they finished 12th, but despite that, have taken up an option in coach Anthony Griffin’s contract to extend his tenure at the club until at least the end of 2023.
Matt Dufty and Cameron McInnes’ departure have been talked about, as have the arrivals of George Burgess, Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods, with plenty of differing opinions offered on the trio, who will need to lead from the front.
But with the likes of Jayden Sullivan, Talatau Amone and Tyrell Sloan at the club, there is an air of excitement around the club for 2022.
Ins: George Burgess (Wigan Warriors, 2023), Jack Gosiewski (Manly Sea Eagles, 2022), Moses Mbye (Wests Tigers, 2023), Tautau Moga (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2022), Francis Molo (North Queensland Cowboys, 2024), Shalom O'Ofou (2022), Jonathon Reuben (2022), Jaydn Su'a (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2024), Moses Suli (Manly Sea Eagles, 2024), Aaron Woods (Cronulla Sharks, 2023)
Outs: Gerard Beale (released), Eddie Blacker (Penrith Panthers), Billy Brittain (released), Adam Clune (Newcastle Knights), Matt Dufty (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Kaide Ellis (Wigan Warriors), Hayden Lomax (released), Cameron McInnes (Cronulla Sharks), Trent Merrin (retired), Corey Norman (Retired), Jordan Pereira (Brisbane Broncos), Shaun Sauni-Esau (released), Paul Vaughan (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Brayden Wiliame (rugby union)
Star player: Ben Hunt
In a side with what is an incredibly young spine - Sloan and one of Sullivan or Amone will take a starting role with the club in 2022 - Hunt will have to stand up and be the leader of the club that he was in 2021.
Named club captain, Hunt went to another level in the halves, leading the club for try assists despite spending a chunk of the year out with injury. He will never be the best half in the game, but he needs to lead from the front for the Dragons.
Rising star: Tyrell Sloan
There are few youngsters in the game who bring quite as much excitement to the table as Sloan. He played a handful of NRL games at the back end of last year, scoring in each of them, before doing the same on his NRL All Stars debut.
With speed to burn, footwork that is hard to stop and excellent vision, he will ultimately be an excellent replacement for Dufty if he can produce at a consistent level.
Most under pressure: Jack Bird
Bird comes into the season with a switch to the middle forwards likely, and plenty to prove if he does go that way.
The utility, in a contract year, will likely be the best ball player in the middle for the Dragons and provide a third play making option. His first season of full fitness was strong, but the Red V need him to go to the next level this year.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 3, vs Sharks, at WIN Stadium (Thu, Mar 24, 8:05pm)
Match 2: Round 7, vs Roosters, at Sydney Cricket Ground (Mon, Apr 25, 4:00pm)
Match 3: Round 10, vs Titans, at Suncorp Stadium (Sat, May 14, 5:30pm)
Match 4: Round 22, vs Raiders, at GIO Stadium (Sun, Aug 14, 2:00pm)
Match 5: Round 25, vs Broncos, at Nestrata Jubilee Stadium (Sat, Sep 3, 5:30pm)
The Dragons are one of the clubs in this year’s competition who could finish anywhere. Handing the keys to the team over to tomorrow’s stars under the guidance of Ben Hunt, Andrew McCullough and some experienced forwards, their attack could be good enough to land them in the top eight.
But it also goes without saying that their middle third defence looks weak, and while high-scoring might be entertaining, it isn’t sustainable for a healthy diet of success. That said, the Dragons are more likely to be somewhere around the bottom four than they are the top eight, just don’t be shocked if they are a surprise packet.