ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
As their 2015 early-season winning streak took hold, in which they claimed eight scalps across nine games, the Drags were being branded the big overachievers of the NRL. When they dropped their next seven, they were suddenly billed as the league’s major underachievers. Whatever their current label is, what they are is a club with plenty of depth, with the Red V cleverly stockpiling young talent across the paddock. We may not know a great deal about Dragons development backs Kurt Mann, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Adam Quinlan or Taane Milne, but we’re guessing Dragons incumbents Jason Nightingale, recruit Tim Lafai, and Peter Mata’utia are all too aware of their potential. In the engine room, Trent Merrin’s a Panther now, but the Dragons have known about that for a while. Russell Packer, returning to the NRL after a prison stint, has been brought in and joins an established and solid forward pack which includes hooker Mitch Rein and club captain Ben Creagh, who could launch off the bench across 2016. This will be the last season we’ll be daring to label this club sliders at anything, though ...
No halves pairing will be under as much pressure in 2016 as the Bulldogs’ combination of experienced number-six Josh Reynolds and rising star Moses Mbye. The big question marks hovering over Belmore this year: can Reynolds return to the electrifying form which saw him win a State of Origin series with the Blues in 2014? And can Mbye, arguably the most talented youngster in the game, maintain his scintillating form from last season? Following the departure of Blues Origin halfback Trent Hodkinson to the Gold Coast Titans, Reynolds and Mbye must click from the opening weekend of the competition and take full advantage of the squad’s giant, space-creating forward pack. They also must start showcasing their slick organisational skills in order for their brilliant backline to frolic in space.
The loss of Super League-bound power forward Frank Pritchard will probably be felt throughout the first half of the campaign, as will the departure of boom centre Tim Lafai to the Dragons. At least former Eel Will Hopoate will be able to fill that void. Oh, just one more question: is captaincy weighing down the performance of British firebrand James Graham? Many argued it did last year. He is at his best when he’s angry.
Young gun Moses Mbye needs to click immediately with halves partner Josh Reynolds at the Bulldogs.