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Wins against Queensland clubs key to fast start for Dragons

Aaron Woods has been telling the young Dragons forwards about playing State of Origin and the former NSW prop believes early season wins against Queensland clubs will be crucial to the Red V’s 2023 hopes.

St George Illawarra start next season with a bye before taking on the Titans (twice), the Broncos and the Dolphins, as well as the Sharks, in the opening six rounds.

After finishing their 2022 campaign in 10th place after a late season fade out in which the Dragons lost five of six matches before recovering to win their last three, Woods said it was crucial they got off to a good start next year.

“It is massive. If we lose the first couple, then the wolves are coming out to give it to us,” Woods said. “As a team, and as a club, we have got to start as fast as we can.

Aaron Woods is enjoying his 15th NRL pre-season
Aaron Woods is enjoying his 15th NRL pre-season ©Dragons Media

“We have the bye in round one, so obviously that is two points, but no-one really cares because every team gets the bye.

“Then we have the Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Dolphins, so we need to start off strong. The goal has to be to win all of those games and if we do that then the monkey is off our back and the speculation goes away.”

With Tariq Sims (Storm), Josh McGuire (Warrington Wolves), Andrew McCullough (retired), Jackson Ford (Warriors), Jack Gosiewski (Cowboys) and George Burgess (retired) leaving the club, the Dragons have lost a lot of experience and depth in the forwards.

However, Woods says there are some promising young forwards coming through the ranks, including Dylan Egan and Aaron Johnson, who are among 14 rookies on NRL train-and-trial contracts for next season.

Dragons rookie Dylan Egan has impressed Aaron Woods in the pre-season
Dragons rookie Dylan Egan has impressed Aaron Woods in the pre-season ©Dragons Media

“At training today, we had to get one minute in one of our runs, and young Egan was getting 41 seconds. He was just really pushing the boys,” Woods said.

“There are obviously some big names like Junior Amone, Tyrell Sloan and [Jayden] ‘Bud’ Sullivan, but there are some good young forwards coming through too.

“They are young – like 18-years-old - but physically I think they could handle the demands of NRL the way they are coming through. You’ve got Egan and young Johnson … obviously they are getting their footy IQ but physically they are ready.”

After playing 19 NRL matches last season, Woods earned a contract extension and he has been mentoring the young forwards in the Dragons squad.

Rookie Dragons forward Aaron Johnson has been turning heads at training
Rookie Dragons forward Aaron Johnson has been turning heads at training ©Dragons Media

“It is something I always want to bring to the club, whether it is guiding the kids or giving them a bit of insight into what they are going to get into,” he said. “They ask a lot of questions, whether it is about playing Origin or for Australia, or in semis as well, and I just give them my take.

“I was captain at 24 of the Tigers, and I have been at a few clubs, so I have learned what to do and what not to do.

“I’m in my 15th pre-season now and young Savelio [Tamale] has just turned 18, so I did my first pre-season when he was three years-old.

“I remember when I was the young guy in the squad running around with guys like [Robbie] Farah, Benji [Marshall], Toddy Payten, [Bryce] Gibbs and [Keith] Galloway [at Wests Tigers]. Now I’m the old head.

“I have been around it, so I know what you have to do to play first grade, and I can help these guys.

Season shapers: Dragons

"When you come in here you have got to be up every day, you have got to be doing your prehab, your rehab and all the one percenters that matter.

“You get some young kids who are pretty confident but these kids just come in and work their backsides off.

“You don’t hear boo from them outside but when they are at training, they ask 1000 questions about ‘how can I get better’ or ‘what position should I be in’.

"There are no egos with them, they are studying video if you walk past in the hall, and they just want to learn.”

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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