What price is a comp?
We all want to win a competition. Whether you are a player, coach or just a fan in the NRL you want your team to hoist the trophy. But when you look at St George Illawarra these days you have to wonder… at what price?
When St George and the Illawarra Steelers joined forces for the 1999 season amongst all the angst was at least the feeling this ‘super side’ would forever be a force. The type of team who seemingly never missed the finals, like the Broncos or the Storm. It was enough of a carrot to simmer some of the ill feelings of the joint venture.
And true to form the side made the grand final in year one and although they lost from a winnable position fans felt ongoing success was coming.
A tumultuous campaign followed in 2000 but then the side became a contender again. By 2004 the side was starting to brim with local junior talent, was playing entertaining footy and was building to something massive. A poor start and eventual one-point loss in the opening round of the 2004 finals was compounded by some upsets and an unlikely exit.
Keen to atone the Dragons were awesome in 2005, pushing to second on the ladder and seemingly ready to find the Promised Land. But history shows they let the Wests Tigers roll them on a night where nerves and momentum shifts killed them.
It was in this period, with a team chock full of talent, everyone around the Dragons became impatient and desperate.
Wayne Bennett was lured on a huge contract to get the job done and right away, in 2009, the Dragons were minor premiers and a year later the trophy belonged to the Red V, the first title for the joint venture, the first premiership for the Illawarra region and the first premiership for St George fans since 1979.
It finally united both sides of the merger well and truly.
But it was done with a short-term strategy. Players who were signed in and were a big part of the success like Darius Boyd, Jeremy Smith and Neville Costigan all had options to leave post Bennett, and did. Bennett also advised a young Josh Morris to take the big cash at the Bulldogs before he even officially arrived at the Dragons.
The side was obviously aging and the likes of Ben Hornby and Dean Young were on the way out. A bit more of a surprise was Mark Gasnier’s retirement, but it just added to the loss of talent.
When Bennett was done he also convinced rep star Beau Scott to follow him to Newcastle along with promising youngster Alex McKinnon.
Now, after missing the finals last year, the Dragons are odds on to do so again, marking the first time the club has missed back to back final series.
The quick fix solution of targeting Craig Bellamy and getting him to drag quality players failed and now Steve Price must rebuild the side.
The signings so far are:
* Gareth Widdop from the Storm who has yet to be proven in a side devoid of legends Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk
* Dylan Farrell from Souths who is solid but not yet spectacular
* Joel Thompson from the Raiders, a decent signing but not a game breaker
* Mike Cooper from Warrington… well this year’s Pommies have been great but the jury will be out till he proves himself
* Josh Dugan who has a chance to prove he has the discipline to be an NRL and Dragons player
I know all Dragons fans will be watching very closely at Widdop’s efforts in the next few weeks during the Origin period without the stars.
Still glaringly missing is a halfback. All due respect to Nathan Fien but he’s just not fast enough or good enough to match the elite in the NRL. There were hopes put on Kyle Stanley but his injury record suggests his body just isn’t cut out for the brutal week in week out nature of the NRL.
The Under 20s team doesn’t appear to be a premiership contender either… so the question is out there… was it worth it?
Is it better to have a competitive team every year who might just jag a comp with a bit of luck or is the Dragons method of win at all costs and pay the price later the way to go? The reality is the Dragons should have won at least two comps in the Bennett years and with luck could have won three. Would the discussion be different if they had?
If you think it was worth it, how long will you think that way? The Dragons could easily be a handful more years away from even truly contending again.
Is that really what the fans wanted?