The perennial “April Premiers” may shed that tag this year, although that might not be for the right reasons. The Dragons have had a slightly controversial offseason for two main reasons – the sudden acquisition of ‘bad boy’ Corey Norman, which has prompted a reshuffle of the spine, and the off-field dramas surrounding Jack De Belin which has now resulted in him being stood down indefinitely. Both caused a bit of a shake-up, with Norman pushing Widdop to fullback and Dufty to the bench, and Norman forming a new halves combination with his former teammate, Ben Hunt. Atlhough, if you believe the rumours we might see a mid-game reshuffle of Dufty to fullback, Widdop to the halves with Norman and Hunt to hooker with McInnes to lock. We also know now that JDB’s absence will open up minutes in the middle – but who benefits? It’s a real unknown at this stage although the Charity Shield will shed some light.
The Dragons have a mixed opening schedule with a tough away trip to Townsville first up, a tough battle with the Rabbitohs at home and then another tough visit to Queensland to Suncorp Stadium to face the Broncos. It gets a little easier after that with a visit to the Knights in Newcastle, but then two home games against the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles. There could be some points on offer but you also wonder how they will go with the heat in Queensland so early in the season…
Nevertheless, there are some interesting decisions to be made and SuperCoaches definitely need to keep an eye on the news relating to the Dragons leading up to TLT!
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GAINS & LOSSES
Gains: Eddie Blacker (2019), Hayden Lomax (2019), Lachlan Maranta (2019), Steven Masters (2019), Corey Norman (Parramatta Eels, 2021), Jonus Pearson (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Mikaele Ravalawa (Canberra Raiders, 2020), Jason Saab (2022), Korbin Sims (Brisbane Broncos, 2021), Lachlan Timm (Melbourne Storm, 2019)
Losses: Leeson Ah Mau (New Zealand Warriors), Reuben Garrick (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles), Patrick Herbert (released), Nene Macdonald (North Queensland Cowboys), Kurt Mann (Newcastle Knights), Jason Nightingale (retired), Hame Sele (Penrith Panthers)
LIKELY STARTING 17
1. Widdop 2. Pereira 3. Lafai 4. Aitken 5. Lomax 6. Norman 7. Hunt 8. Vaughan 9. McInnes 10. Graham 11. T Sims 12. Frizell 13. K Sims 14. Dufty 15. Lawrie 16. Leilua 17. Latimore/Kerr
This is the expected Round 1 squad but it’s worth noting that Korbin Sims will be a noticeable omission due to a two-game suspension to start the year. Blake Lawrie could end up starting at lock for the first two weeks but has shades of “trap” written on him due to a likely bench role after Korbin’s return to the line-up. Mary has options though with Tyson Frizell having previously played plenty of minutes in the middle in Origin and also for the Dragons.
*** late update: rumours of Sam Kasiano being shopped around by the Storm and the Dragons obviously having a salary cap concession for the JDB situation create a lot of uncertainty – watch this space!
Who’s left: Mitch Allgood, Eddie Blacker, Jack De Belin, Jai Field, Jackson Ford, Jacob Host, Josh Kerr, Jeremy Latimore, Hayden Lomax, Lachlan Maranta, Steven Masters, Darren Nicholls, Jonus Pearson, Mikaele Ravalawa, Reece Robson, Jason Saab, Tristan Sailor, Lachlan Timm
Teams they play twice: Knights, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Cowboys, Roosters, Eels, Titans
Teams they play once: Broncos, Warriors, Storm, Raiders, Panthers, Tigers
First five games: Cowboys (A), Rabbitohs (H), Broncos (A), Knights (A), Bulldogs (H)
The Dragons have a decent draw on the whole, with two games against a number of expected bottom eight teams. The opening draw isn’t the best though, with a tough first three games followed by two kinder ones. Any draw where you only have to play the Storm, Broncos and Panthers once is a decent start.
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GARETH WIDDOP ($553,400, 5/8/FLB, 2018 PPG: 59.1)
Widdop is one of the most interesting options at the Dragons given his expected move to fullback this season. His move to fullback in 2012 for the Storm yielded an average of 51.4 PPG in 5 games.
There isn’t much history to go by, but the usual assumption with the shift in position is that Widdop’s base stats should increase with more runs and less (missed) tackles. This also gives him the opportunity to be involved on both sides of the field… but there’s the rumoured talk about Mary McGregor wanting to look at a mid-game reshuffle which could see Widdop back at five-eighth and with Norman, with Dufty back at fullback and Hunt at hooker – but only temporarily?! Nightmare fuel for Dragons and SuperCoach fans.
Widdop could start the year on fire but there are a few other great options at
PAUL VAUGHAN ($493,000, FRF, 2018 PPG: 52.7, 2018 MPG: 47)
After Vaughan’s incredible breakout season which saw him score eight tries in 2017 as a prop, he dropped to two tries only in 2018. This alone is responsible for an 8 or 9 PPG reduction in his average from his 18 non-injury affected games last year.
Vaughan needs more minutes to be relevant, but with JDB suspended then that may give him the extra 5-10 minutes he needs to be worth starting with from Round 1.
At the very least, he won’t go down in price as long as he maintains his 48 MPG from 2018. He has a real opportunity to step up as the alpha middle forward in JDB’s absence, although this may depend on who takes over as the starting lock for the long-term.
KORBIN SIMS ($389,900, FRF, 2018 PPG: 41.7, 2018 MPG: 40)
Korbin averaged 40 MPG for the Broncos in 2018, and he appeared set to take on a similar role for the Dragons as a middle forward off the bench. However, with the JDB suspension, he has the opportunity to take over as the starting lock, after having been named there last week (in JDB’s absence) for the first trial.
If he was to receive a sizeable bump in minutes to 50 or even 55 (which is still below JDB’s average minutes last season) he could be worth a look – but Korbin is suspended for the opening two rounds so the good news is that we get a good look at what happens for two weeks before you would consider jumping on in Round 5.
BEN HUNT ($481,300, HFB, 2018 Games: 18, 2018 PPG: 58
Hunt had an up-and-down year, after flying out the blocks in the shadow of Gareth Widdop to average 65.1 PPG in the first eight games, but then really dipping afterwards as the Dragons began their usual struggles.
Most concerningly, things really hit the skids after Widdop went down injured early in Round 22, with Hunt being unable to step up and help his side take control, averaging just 20.8 PPG in the games without Widdop being the main man in the halves.
Corey Norman may help that, but he isn’t exactly known as a consistent half so Hunt looks like a really risky pick, especially if he does get reshuffled around by Mary to accommodate Dufty.
COREY NORMAN ($448,700, 5/8/FLB, 2018 Games: 20, 2018 PPG: 48)
Norman moves from the Eels to a better-performing team but there are always risks associated with picking a new half in an established team – especially one where there is another two established players at halfback and fullback. Norman reverted to his usual SuperCoach scores after a bit of a career highlight in 2017. He’s generally just not very consistent and moving to the Dragons is unlikely to fix that.
EUAN AITKEN ($481,300, CTW, 2018 Games: 23, 2018 PPG: 51)
Aitken averaged 54.7 PPG if you adjust for his two injury or HIA-affected games, which is obviously solid, but the concerns for him remain not so much about his SuperCoach scoring, but more about his on-field play. It’s no secret that the Dragons have repeatedly had issues with his defence, especially his decision-making, which was why he often defended further in the middle of the field (which was great for his tackle numbers!). With the emergence of Lomax, there were even rumours that Lomax may take the right centre spot for Round 1. Aitken most likely remains on a short leash and he could find himself transitioning into the backrow (via the bench) sometime this year as his game is suited to becoming an edge backrower.
ZAC LOMAX ($196,900, CTW, 2018 Games: 2, 2018 PPG: 21.5)
While his score in the two games of the regular season aren’t inspiring, Lomax had a great end to 2018 which saw him featuring as right centre and also goalkicker in Widdop’s absence during the finals. Lomax seems set to be the right winger, or potentially even the right centre, and is one of the most likely CTW cheapie options for Round 1. Just lock him into your line-up!
MIKAELE RAVALAWA ($168,100, CTW, 2018 Games: nil)
Having trained extensively on the right wing during the preseason, there was some hype about him getting that spot for Round 1 although the latest news appears to have him down the pecking order. His performance during the first trial games has also been impressive, scoring a great solo try. He has skills and if given a shot, he should be a solid cash cow.
THE BENCH FORWARDS (KERR / HOST / LAWRIE)
With the opening of a spot in the pack due to the JDB suspension, there is definitely a spot up for grabs although that spot won’t be without risk. The Korbin Sims trap firstly – with him out the first two rounds, whoever is named at lock you would assume will shift back to the bench once Sims returns, which means someone else drops out – and potentially even the Sam Kasiano trap (if the rumoured signing does go ahead). Host has also had a disrupted preseason which may see him not get the nod in Round 1 – but Host has consistently been one of the bench forwards that Mary McGregor has trusted due to his ability to play middle and edge, and may find his way back in when he regains fitness. Injuries will play a big part here, but there are definitely minutes on offer in the logjam that is the Dragons’ pack.
Check out all of our other 2019 Club Previews below: