Dragons Mid-Season Review
By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
The only word you would use to describe the first fortnight of the Dragons' season is "abysmal". But in Canberra on a cold winter's afternoon in March the Red V finally clicked.
Winning their next six, and eight of their next 10 games, the Dragons now find themselves as a premiership heavyweight and well entrenched in the top four.
With coach Paul McGregor signing anyone with size or experience in the pre-season, the Dragons have risen well above most critics expectations.
The run home: The Dragons have a pretty reasonable run home and are only four wins away from booking their spot in finals football. Alternating between home and away games for the majority of the backend of the year, the Dragons have a balanced run against top eight sides facing six inside it and six outside. However they have two trips to New Zealand to look forward to either side of Round 21.
Game to remember: Down 18-0 after 21 minutes against the Raiders back in Round 3, the Dragons season hit full speed and they haven't looked like slowing down ever since. Running away with an eventual 22-20 win, their first victory of the season was the impetus behind their amazing form in 2015.
The one that got away: Oh how things have changed since the Dragons Round 1 outing against the Storm. Dominating proceedings in terms of ball in hand, St George Illawarra simply couldn't score more than once and lost 12-4 to a Melbourne team who missed 14 more tackles, completed sets at just 68 per cent and made six more errors than the Dragons.
MVP: While halves Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop have been incredible of late, there's a reason why the Dragons' defence has outshone their attack and it's their lock Trent Merrin. The glue of their defence in the middle of the paddock, Merrin usually makes over 30 tackles per game while also maintains a strong running game where 150 metres a match is never out of the equation.
Stats that matter: The Dragons have been the benchmark when it comes to defence. They have leaked just 12 points per game this year and it has been the backbone of their ascendancy up the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
Fantasy stud: Nine Dragons are averaging over 40 points but it is back-rowers Tyson Frizell (avg 53.1) and Merrin (avg 52.8) who are leading the way for the Red V. Frizell has also made a handy $113k this season, but rookie centre Euan Aitken is the cash cow stud, making the most this season having already pocketed an extra $165,000 for Fantasy coaches.
Injury report: A six-week back injury to captain Ben Creagh after Round 1 has been the only major casualty for the Dragons throughout the season so far. Otherwise minor injuries to Will Matthews, Joel Thompson and Mike Cooper have been of little concern while Frizell missed a fortnight due to suspension.
What they are saying: "We have fallen into a trap previously of trying to score too much, people were saying our attack wasn't working and we were trying too much to make it work. Our main focus is defence." – Benji Marshall keeps it simple when outlining his team's 2015 goals. While they haven't been scoring all that well – the fifth-fewest points (212) competition-wide, their amazing defence has made life much easier for the Red V.
Predicted finish: The Dragons run home isn't half bad and considering they have only conceded 20 points or more just three times this year they should easily finish in the top four on current form. 4th.