It’s not flash, it ain’t pretty, and, according to bookmakers, it’s not worth spending your money on.
But St George-Illawarra coach Paul McGregor is banking on some old school continuity to defy the odds and drag the Red V into NRL title contention in 2016.
An impressive 14 of the 17 players who went down fighting in their qualifying final, extra-time loss to Canterbury last year, reported back to McGregor for the summer, giving the Dragons a pre-season cohesion not previously seen in the post-Wayne Bennett era.
Eto Nabuli, Trent Merrin and George Rose were the only players not to return, and are likely to be replaced by smart signings Kurt Mann, Russell Packer and Dunamis Lui in the top 17.
Adding classy Canterbury centre Tim Lafai was a post-Christmas bonus.
“I think it’s huge,” said McGregor of the Dragons’ continuity.
“It’s not talked about much and probably a bit under-rated but if you can keep your core together, your spine together, then it makes for a hell of an easier pre-season.
“Our edges are the same, so defensively we already know how we all play.
“Rosters get changed, coaches come and go – and sometimes that’s all out of your control. But when you look at our 17, there’s only minimal changes. And that all helps for the season.”
Even better, most of his top 25 – excluding key men Benji Marshall, Mitch Rein and Joel Thompson – have the security of knowing they all have jobs with the Dragons next season.
“I don’t think many sides can say they’ve got 21 of their 25 players contracted for 2017,” McGregor says.
Still, the Dragons have been given the flick by bookmakers.
“It’s totally unexpected to have most experts having us miss the eight, and even down the bottom,” McGregor said.
“But that’s only perception, and I’ve spoken to the guys about that. It’s about what we can actually do.
“I’m quite happy to be the underdog too. I know other teams have bought well, so we’re not expected to be in the eight. But I’m expecting us to play well.”
Premierships: 1 – 2010
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – 8th, 2014 – 11th, 2013 – 14th
Coach: Paul McGregor
Captains: Gareth Widdop, Ben Creagh
Gains: Kalifa Faifai Loa (Gold Coast), Siliva Havili, Sebastine Ikahihifo (Warriors), Tim Lafai (Canterbury), Dunamis Lui (Manly), Kurt Mann, Shaun Nona (Melbourne), Mose Masoe (St Helens), Tyrone McCarthy (Hull KR), Josh McCrone (Canberra), Taane Milne (Sydney Roosters), Russell Packer (free agent), Adam Quinlan (Parramatta)
Losses: Craig Garvey (Canterbury), Nathan Green (Manly), Dan Hunt, Heath L’Estrange (retired), Justin Hunt (Wests Tigers), Mark Ioane (London), Trent Merrin (Penrith), Eto Nabuli (rugby union), Dane Nielsen (South Sydney), Rory O’Brien (Parramatta), Charly Runciman (Widnes)
Strengths: The spine that led them to a qualifying final last year – Dugan, Widdop, Marshall and Rein – all return.
Weaknesses: The bench lacks power, an impact player that can change the momentum of the game with a couple of charging runs or stinging hits.
Best team: Josh Dugan, Jason Nightingale, Kurt Mann, Tim Lafai, Euan Aitken, Gareth Widdop (c), Benji Marshall, Mike Cooper, Mitch Rein, Russell Packer, Leeson Ah Mau, Joel Thompson, Tyson Frizell. Interchange: Ben Creagh (c), Jack de Belin, Dunamis Lui, Will Matthews.
Predicted finish: 11th