St George Illawarra came into the season with high hopes
Photo Source: AAP
After making the finals in 2015 and going out in a nail-biter in the first week, St George Illawarra entered the season full of hope. As one of the best defensive teams last season, they only needed to find a way to score more consistently to start their climb up the ladder.
Unfortunately it didn't pan out that way. Their defence, while still respectable, never really hit the heights of last year, while the halves pairing of Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop didn't even reach their 2015 output. Eventually Marshall said farewell to the club at season's end.
The team's scoring didn't either, recording just 341 points for the season, only better than wooden spooners Newcastle and Parramatta. As well as losing Marshall, the club also parted ways with hooker Mitch Rein to leave themselves with some massive holes to fill next year.
Six games that shaped the Dragons' season
Round 1: Storm d Dragons 18-16
There are few tougher ways to start the season than travelling down to Melbourne to face the Storm, but St George Illawarra were undaunted and played an amazing first 15 minutes, scoring two tries and shooting out to a 12-0 lead. It was a powerful statement that suggested they might have sorted out their try-scoring woes. Unfortunately they couldn't maintain that intensity and Melbourne were able to get ahead and then hold their lead, while the Dragons scored just one more try for the match. Despite the loss, it was a brave showing and it gave St George Illawarra plenty of confidence.
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Round 3: Dragons d Rabbitohs 8-6
The Kurt Mann at fullback experiment was officially a failure and coach Paul McGregor finally listened to what the fans wanted, dumping Mann from the side and promoting Josh Dugan to the No.1 jumper. The switch brought about the side's first win for the year, which was no mean feat given that Marshall was out of the side injured. Driving rain at the SCG ensured the match was a bit of slog and made it extremely difficult to get across the line, with all the scoring done in the first half hour of the game. Nobody managed to score after Widdop put his side ahead with a penalty goal on the 30-minute mark. This game ended up being Ben Creagh's last for the club after back-to-back knee surgeries ended his career.
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Round 4: Dragons d Panthers 14-12
While the weather very much played a part in St George Illawarra's miserly defence the week prior, it was back to the wall of 2015 in this game as they shut out Penrith in the first half. When the first try was scored against them in this game it was 129 minutes since they had last given up a try. Unfortunately it still appeared as though their scoring problems had also carried over. Despite this, they did manage to create a piece of brilliance in the final five minutes to snatch victory. The Dragons were able to win the ball back from a short kick-off, opening the door for Dugan to score from a last-tackle play.
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Round 8: Dragons d Roosters 20-18
St George Illawarra attacked the Anzac Day clash with ferocity in the first half, shooting out to an 18-0 half-time lead and maintaining 55 per cent of possession in a dominant display. The Chooks clawed their way back into the game and the Dragons were only able to score one penalty goal in the final 40 minutes. It was enough to get the win, but their inability to shut the game down against an opponent that had been struggling for most of the season was a blow to their confidence.
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Round 21: Bulldogs d Dragons 13-10
Their finals chances were slowly slipping away after three straight losses and St George Illawarra were well and truly gone by the end of this game. Not only did Canterbury's defence hold tight to deny the Dragons the win, but the match review committee made arguably its worst decision of the season when it decided to hand back-rower Tyson Frizell a one-match ban for making contact with referee Chris James in the fourth minute. St George Illawarra challenged the ridiculous ruling but the Judiciary upheld the finding and Frizell was out of action for the upcoming game against the Broncos, which they also lost narrowly.
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Round 26: Dragons d Knights 28-26
It might not be going too far to suggest that Widdop saved his coach's bacon in the final game of the season. After failing to make the finals this year, McGregor was under heaps of pressure already. Ending the campaign against a club that managed just one win for the year was always going to present as a danger game. Like so many games during the year, St George Illawarra started well, taking a 22-10 lead into half-time, but they struggled after the break and Newcastle got back into the contest. With the scores level the Dragons got a fortunate break. Referee Henry Perenara blew a penalty against Knights veteran Jeremy Smith, and Widdop nailed the 40-metre penalty goal to save the team and coach some serious blushes.
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