St George Illawarra Dragons Season in Review
Even with a cursory glance at St George Illawarra Dragons work-horse Jack De Belin's numbers for last season, one conclusion is unavoidable – his attacking contribution skyrocketed.
A noted defender, De Belin's old-school chop-them-in-half technique has been remarkably effective since he was a budding National Youth Competition star making his way to first grade.
Now 26, De Belin has spent much of his 129-game, seven-season NRL career as a reliable defender who also gets through his carries. But the club's 2017 recruitment of defensive maestros such as Cam McInnes and Paul Vaughan, plus the faith of his coach Paul McGregor to focus more on what he can offer with ball in hand, resulted in De Belin's attacking numbers going through the roof.
This was partly fuelled by a reduction in the defensive requirements placed on the Cootamundra Bulldogs junior, whose average minutes (69 per game down to 66) and tackles (44 down to 35) dropped noticeably in 2017.
In contrast, his season offloads almost tripled from 15 to 42, his tackle breaks more than doubled from 30 to 64 while his average metres leapt from 117 per game to 147.
Having gone from someone whose attacking figures were never better than middle of the road, De Belin is now among the NRL's best in a few categories.
He was arguably the most effective offloader in the entire competition in 2017. His 42 offloads came at a 95 per cent effectiveness rating – the only four players above that (given a minimum qualification of 15 offloads) all produced fewer than 30 total offloads while the only players to produce more offloads than De Belin in 2017 fell well short of his effectiveness rate.
Tim Lafai was the only Dragon with more offloads but they came at a 77 per cent effective rate with many of his 71 offload attempts hitting the turf. Competition leader Martin Taupau (72 offloads) was effective at an 81 per cent clip.
De Belin's 62 tackle busts were fifth-best among all forwards in the Telstra Premiership, with a quartet of hard-running superstars in Jason Taumalolo (114), Angus Crichton (107), Andrew Fifita (87) and Martin Taupau (85) the only names ahead of him.
"I feel like with defence, that's what got me into first grade, being a solid defender," De Belin told NRL.com.
"That was always my strong point playing rugby league. With my attack I never really had a chance to show what I had.
"I feel like I'm a natural ball player and it kinda comes pretty easy to me so a lot of that goes to Mary (McGregor) having the faith and trust in me to get some more plays on and be able to do that.
"With the tackle breaks, that just comes from having a big pre-season and more confidence in what you can do."
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De Belin feels his game would be suited to representative football. The two-time Country Origin representative got agonisingly close to NSW honours in 2017, called into Laurie Daley's extended Blues squad to be part of an extended bench for all three games without quite cracking a debut.
"Being in and around that it makes you want to aspire to be playing [Origin]," De Belin said.
"I'll be putting some high standards on myself to be playing [Origin] next year. That's one of my biggest goals. Obviously to be playing good football week in week out for the Dragons but I definitely want to be playing for my state [next] year. I feel like I'm ready for it now. I was in the system [this year] and I feel like I'll be ready [next] year."