By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
After being part of a playing group that defied all expectations and proved the doubters wrong in 2016, Titan-turned-Dragon Nene Macdonald is ready to do it all again in 2017.
Few expected Neil Henry's bits-and-pieces roster to be any sort of a threat last season even before upcoming star half Kane Elgey's season ended before it began.
But rookie playmaker Ash Taylor's amazing season earned him Rookie of the Year honours and he formed a wonderful combination with Tyrone Roberts; fringe forwards like Vaha Pulu and Agnatius Paasi had great campaigns; prop Ryan James had the best season of his career and the Titans proved better than just nuisance value in beating out several more fancied teams to make the top eight.
For Papua New Guinea Test back Nene Macdonald, the first year of his new three-year deal at St George Illawarra gives him the chance to repeat the dose.
The unfancied Dragons will be relying on an untried and brand new playmaking roster of half Drew Hutchison and hooker Cam McInnes joining five-eighth Gareth Widdop and fullback Josh Dugan after slipping to a disappointing 11th-place finish in 2016 which has few backing them for a significant improvement in 2017.
It's a challenge Macdonald is ready to rise to again.
"It's pretty exciting now coming to Dragons because they've had a tough couple of years so it would be good for us to prove them wrong, whoever's writing us off," Macdonald told NRL.com.
"We did it at Titans; it's a lot better coming from down to the top because a lot of people love that."
There is no reason in the current NRL environment a team can't go from also-rans to contenders in one season, according to Macdonald.
"Two years ago Sharks were wooden spooners and now they won the comp," he said.
"When the Roosters won it in 2013 they came near last (13th) in 2012 to win the comp so you never know.
"With some of the young boys coming through here and a big forward pack now it's pretty exciting."
Of his own move to Steel City, Macdonald said the lure of a secure three-year-deal was a huge factor – as well as the famous history of the Red V.
"They offered a good deal for three years and I was looking for a long term thing instead of a one year deal," he said.
"The history of the club brought me here, I love playing for clubs that have a lot of history and the fans here are very dedicated.
"I'm looking at staying here for the rest of my career.
"Hopefully I can play well and hopefully they keep me as well."
While Macdonald credits 2016 as something of a breakout year for himself – which included a thrilling 24-22 Test win over Fiji in Port Moresby in May – he insists he has plenty of improvement left in him.
"I had a good year but I reckon there's still more to come – I can step it up this year and hopefully I do. Come 2017 I want to be flying out of the gates," he said.
He added he is ready to play anywhere in the backline if it means getting a start in coach Paul McGregor's Round 1 line-up. "But probably not halfback!" he laughed.
In terms of his ambitions for 2017, Macdonald hopes a big pre-season will help him earn a spot despite competition from a couple of mates like former Titans teammate Kalifa Faifai Loa and former Roosers NYC teammate Taane Milne.
But in addition to becoming a first grade staple at the Dragons, Macdonald also hopes to add to his five Test caps for PNG when the squad is finalised for the end-of-year World Cup.
"I love chucking the PNG jersey on. The love for footy thy have over there, you don't really understand til you go over there," Macdonald said.
"It was exciting that we won (the May Test) it was a big thing for them.
"With the World Cup coming up next year, hopefully I make the team, it will be massive for us.
"I played in the last World Cup [in the UK in 2013].
"I was young and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
"Especially since our games for PNG will be in PNG, massive home crowds for us which will be exciting."