St George Illawarra have recruited as extensively as any team ahead of the new NRL season and coach Steve Price finally has a side he can call his own.
But with the joint venture hoping to finally move out of the shadow cast by supercoach Wayne Bennett since his departure at the end of 2011, can the Dragons threaten the top sides in 2014?
Their big Charity Shield loss to South Sydney says no.
Some are already calling for Price’s head. Others say it was only a trial match. Either way the Dragons will want to start the season well for their coach’s sake.
Much of that will depend upon key signing Gareth Widdop.
The England pivot was lured from Melbourne and the security of the Storm’s Big Three – Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater – with the opportunity to prove himself as a marquee player in his own right.
Great faith has been put in Widdop by Dragons management and Price is confident that, with his new environment and new responsibilities, the playmaker can take his game to a new level.
“He wants to get to that and the signs are there that he is ready to evolve his game,” Price said.
“He is so meticulous and demands quality in everything that he does.
“He is still young but he brings a great calmness to his game.
“He wants to be a leader. He wants to be a senior player at our football club, and he is doing everything he can to get there.
“He knows success, he knows how to get it and that is what we are hopeful he will bring to this footy club.
“Gareth is an impressive young man and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do out there on the field for us.”
Plenty of sides will struggle against the Rabbitohs this year. St George Illawarra have recruited smartly and Price believes he finally has a team that can make an impression.
“We want to get back to being one of the benchmark clubs of the competition,” Price said.
“And I would like to think that can happen in 2014. It is going to take a little bit of time and some hard work and commitment, but we have a playing group and a coaching staff that we believe is capable of that.
“It’s a whole new beginning for the club, and the way the new personnel have fitted into that is really pleasing.”
Inevitably Price has much at stake on his new halves pairing of Widdop with Sam Williams, who arrived from Canberra along with back-rower Joel Thompson.
Another new arrival is former Warrington prop Mike Cooper Dylan Farrell.
Those signings coupled with a backline that includes Brett Morris, Josh Dugan, Josh Nightingale and Gerard Beale mean the Dragons should compete well with the top sides if they find their groove.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
Premierships: 1 – 2010
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2013 – 14th, 2012 – 9th, 2011 – 5th
Coach: Steve Price
Captain: Ben Creagh
Gains: Josh Ailaomai (Roosters), Mike Cooper (Warrington), Dylan Farrell (Rabbitohs), Matt Groat (Tigers), Joel Thompson (Raiders), Gareth Widdop (Storm), Sam Williams (Raiders), Michael Witt (London Broncos), Peter Mata’utia (Knights)
Losses: Matt Cooper (retired), Evander Cummins (Eels), Nathan Fien (retired), Jackson Hastings (Roosters), Cameron King (Cowboys), Matt Prior (Sharks), Jamie Soward (Panthers), Chase Stanley (Bulldogs), Daniel Vidot (Broncos), Michael Weyman (Hull Kingston Rovers)
Strength: Out wide. The Dragons have one of the NRL’s better strike forces in the outside backs with Brett Morris, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale and Josh Dugan.
Weakness: Up front. With Price looking to move Ben Creagh moving from the back-row to prop the Dragons look light on up front.
Money Man: Gareth Widdop. The England pivot has been brought to Dragons with the express purpose of getting their spluttering attack firing. If he does the Dragons will be competitive, if he doesn’t it will be another long season.
One to watch: Mike Cooper, Not a lot is known Down Under about the former Warrington prop but he is quick and has good footwork for a big man.
Best team: Josh Dugan, Brett Morris, Gerard Beale, Dylan Farrell, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop, Sam Williams, Jack de Belin, Mitch Rein, Ben Creagh, Joel Thompson, Leeson Ah Mau, Trent Merrin. Interchange: Kyle Stanley, Mike Cooper, Bronson Harrison, Dan Hunt
Predicted finish: 14th