I like many other Red V fans sat frustrated for the better part of seventy-minutes on Sunday, as the Dragons turned out yet another performance bereft of attacking flair and defensive solidity. Unfortunately, this has become an all too familiar sight for this enigmatic side over the last few years. The result on Sunday was a predictable one. For only the first ten minutes of the game did the Dragons ever look like calling the bluff of the betting agencies. For the remainder of the contest, the Farah-less Tigers looked determined to end a tumultuous week off the field with a resounding victory on it. The young halves in Brooks and Moises were poised, level-headed and reverted to playing on instinct when sticking to structures failed them. They did what all good halves do. Challenge the line, link up with the big men, force repeat sets through effective last tackle kicks and suss out the defensive lapses of the Dragons. Most importantly, they manufactured tries through ad-lib football at stages when their attack appeared to have hit a rough spot. A refreshing, reassuring sight for Wests Tigers fans I’m sure. They looked a class above experienced campaigners Marshall and Widdop, who struggled to stamp any authority on the game. The performance was a minor improvement on the lackluster efforts of the last two weeks for the Red V. But it’s going to take radical improvements in both attack and defence if they are to get through a horror three week period against the competition heavyweights unscathed.
There’s no doubting that a clean out is imminent at the Dragons once the curtain is drawn on season 2016. The mediocre, steadily declining performances of recent seasons warrant this. Doust will be axed as growing fan unrest gains traction, while McGregor and his right-hand men will follow in the immediate aftermath. Since Bennet’s tyrannical reign came to an end in 2011, (I really should be more diplomatic given the Dragons won a premiership under his tutelage) the Dragons have finished 9th, 14th, 11th and 8th. Over these four seasons, their biggest achievements have been the sacking of a coach and the acquisition of a halfback who has failed to conjure up the flash in the pan success he showed a little under a decade ago. I admire the guile of Benji. His left-foot step was poetry in motion at the peak of his powers. He was, and still is, a commentators dream when he breaks the tackles of defenders two times his size to score a ninety-meter run away try. But for someone like myself who is so heavily invested in this club, I just don’t see him as an adequate fit for Widdop. That is, of course, if the six and seven is indeed the combination they wish to build their successes around in future. And it should be, given the Dragons habitual point scoring struggles – they sit just fourteen-points clear of the last placed Newcastle Knights in this regard. It would be unjustly myopic of me to suggest that the halves are the sole proprietors of the form slump, but then again, the stats tell an incriminating tale. Benji’s lateral running style leaves players around him flat-footed and confused when the ball is floated their way. The wrap-around play that he so often institutes is rarely executed with any degree of perfection and can be sniffed out and shut down instantly by defensive units. It’s a shame, because this ploy worked like clockwork for the West Tigers through several finals campaigns, albeit during the mid to late 2000’s.
On the other side of the equation is Gareth Widdop, who has been missing in action for the Dragons during several of the losses this season, not through injury or suspension, but through underperformance and limited involvement. His leadership has been equally non-existent, with calls now for his tenure to be prematurely relinquished just five months into its journey. In short, the Dragons attack is predictable, easily read by the opposition defence and prone to periods where it loses direction, either through frustration or lack of ideas. They require an inventive playmaker, someone who complements Widdop or Marshall – whomever they choose to carry on in the role, only one can remain – and can change the point scoring fortunes of the Dragons by playing what’s in front of them. We have, however, reached round 21, which indicates that the pool of free-agents is rapidly thinning. The Dragons have already lost out on the signature of Luke Keary that, up until the tricolours snuck under the radar to snavel him, they looked certain to secure. Its left many wondering what personnel changes, if any, will be made to upgrade the quality of the playing roster. All things being equal, and assuming they fail to lure Corey Norman, the Dragons will need to return to the negotiating table once more to increase the $300,000 contract extension offer to something more palatable for Marshall and his manager.
Mary McGregor said himself in the press conference following the game on Sunday that cohesion has gone missing at the Dragons this season because they’ve been without a regular spine. While this has had some bearing on the results, a clear inability to score points in attacking field position stems from more than a simple lack of cohesion. This appears to be McGregor’s superficial response in a futile attempt to divert attention away from his sides difficulties, and of course, the mounting pressure he faces in retaining his job as head honcho. Perhaps Geoff Toovey will give coaching another go despite the terms on which he and Manly parted ways if the Dragons and McGregor do fall out of love. His methods are tried and tested, while his bloody-mindedness and resolve would set the Dragons attack on the straight and narrow.
When the Dragons led the competition for a brief period last season, defence formed the crucial underpinning of their victories. In fact, it is what the Dragons claim to be the cornerstone of their game. It was difficult then to watch on Sunday as the Tigers strolled through untouched to score on two occasions. Even more painful was watching three defenders drop off a single player while others stood and watched in back play. There was nothing special about the pass from Halatau to Nofoluma, nothing that should have allowed the latter to breeze past the weary marker defenders and into a gaping hole with ease. But on this and many other occasions throughout the afternoon, the Dragons defence was sadly lacking, particularly up the middle of the field. So much so that the eighth immortal found it apt to lambaste their defensive incompetencies. Is this a confidence issue, or are they not trusting the man beside them? Perhaps we’re viewing the results of more crude coaching methods?
Feel free to chime in with your opinions below Dragons fans….