Trent Merrin was an absolute workhorse for the Dragons this year.
Photo: Getty Images
Losing super coach Wayne Bennett at the end of last year was never going to be easy, but with most of the side that one a premiership just two years ago still intact, hopes were still high.
With new coach Steve Price on board, much was talked about a renewed focus on attack. Unfortunately, this was all it amounted to – talk. The Dragons scored fewer points than any other team this year and they missed the finals because of it.
The fact Darius Boyd followed Bennett to Newcastle didn't help the Dragons in attack, but there was little creativity shown to try and cover for the loss.
There were signs that the Dragons could bounce back next year, though, with hooker Mitch Rein and Jack de Bellin two of the more impressive players throughout the year.
Round 1: Newcastle 14-15 Dragons
Steve Price's first match in charge of the Dragons was against his former mentor Wayne Bennett and his Knights.
St George-Illawarra made an enterprising start to the season with a hard-fought win in extra time.
Jamie Soward's 85th-minute field goal sealed a deserved victory.
The visiting Dragons were the better team, dominating in the forwards and controlling possession.
No forward was better than prop Trent Merrin who came off the bench to provide 183m of running plus 33 tackles.
Round 4: Dragons 17-6 Manly
The Dragons went into round four with wins over the Knights and Tigers and one heavy loss to the Bulldogs. The contest against Manly at Kogarah was an early test of how the Dragons were faring in the post-Bennett era, and they passed with flying colours. Michael Weyman scored early, and Jason Nightingale posted tries in the closing minutes of each half to secure a fine win. Stout defence limited Manly to two line breaks for the match and a single try. Weyman and Merrin overwhelmed the Sea-Eagles' frontrowers, boom hooker Mitch Rein continued to impress, and Brett Morris strode 206m with ball in hand from full-back.
Round 6: Sharks 12-0 Dragons
In a frustrating Saturday night encounter the Dragons were held scoreless by their Shire rivals. The result took the Dragons to a moderate 3-3 record for the season, and exemplified their biggest problem in 2012: scoring points. Yet again Weyman (143m) and Merrin (179m) made huge ground and tackled like titans, matched by backrowers Ben Creagh and Beau Scott, but the backs could not get over the stripe. The Dragons had only two line breaks for the game. Both sides defended superbly, but the Sharks – led by an astonishing effort in attack and defence from skipper Paul Gallen – held firm throughout.
Round 10: Panthers 13-12 Dragons
In a tight season, this was probably the pivotal loss that kept the Dragons from making the final eight. Up against a poor Penrith outfit that had lost eight successive home matches, the Dragons not only lost in golden point extra time but also lost gun prop Weyman for the season. The Dragons were mediocre all night, and Penrith skipped away to a 12-0 lead after 23 minutes. Late in the game the visitors hit back with a Jake Marketo try in the 66th minute followed by a Mitch Rein touchdown in the 75th minute. Lachlan Coote's field goal in the fourth minute of extra time made it a Monday night to forget for the Dragons faithful. Worse, Weyman ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and was consigned to knee reconstruction surgery. Outstanding youngster Rein made a crucial late error and was admonished on field by Ben Hornby. "We had all the momentum going into extra time but made a poor play in normal time and gave away a stupid penalty, but you can't play well for 20 minutes and expect to win the game," Hornby said afterwards.
Round 19: Dragons 18-10 Sharks
Going into the return match with Cronulla, the Dragons' season teetered at 7-9. Victory gave them an outside chance of pushing for the finals. Revenge on the Sharks came in a game where the Dragons had only 44 per cent of possession and completed just 24 of 37 sets but still ran for more metres than their rivals. Merrin's 67th-minute try sealed a grinding win. Rein, Creagh and Merrin were quality forwards while there were huge running performances by backs Morris (256m), Nightingale (198m) and Daniel Vidot (191m). The downside was Kyle Stanley rupturing his ACL, condemning the 21-year-old to a third knee reconstruction. After the game coach Price attacked the knockers, saying, "Anyone who doubts our character and our spirit amongst our footy club certainly got their pants pulled down today."
Round 22: Roosters 26-10 Dragons
After a fighting win against Melbourne the Dragons needed to win this game to push for September action, but fell short. The Roosters scored the first two tries, then the Dragons hit back with tries to Matt Prior and Ben Creagh in the space of five minutes while the home team was down to 12 men due to a sin-binning. When it returned to 13 on 13, however, the Roosters piled on two more tries with Mitchell Pearce completing a hat-trick. Morris had two tries disallowed due to forward passes in a game where the Dragons managed a solitary line break. With Jamie Soward left out of the team the visitors could not find spark in attack. Merrin (155m and 40 tackles) was again Herculean, well supported by Dan Hunt and Prior, but an inability to post points hurt St George-Illawarra yet again.
The Dragons lost their next two games then won the last two of the season to finish one spot out of the finals, ending a frustrating season in which they defended adequately but scored fewer points than any team in the comp.
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