There is definitely a different feel about St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL in 2017, with Paul McGregor’s side putting last season’s disappointing campaign behind them and challenging with the elite at the top of the table, which few would have predicted earlier in the year.
McGregor was under extreme pressure at the start of the 2017 season, following last year’s 11th placed finish, with genuine belief that the coach’s time with St George was drawing to a close. However, the Dragons have surprised many this term and McGregor is on the verge of committing his future to the club, which is a testament to the job he has done in New South Wales.
The Dragons are currently sat third in the table, with only Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks above them in the NRL. As the campaign enters its mid-point, there is a feeling that the Dragons are the real deal this year, and could potentially cause an upset this season, by winning their first Premiership title since 2010.
The current England national coach, Wayne Bennett, led the Dragons to a 32-8 victory over Sydney Roosters in 2010, and they are currently 12/1 with many bookmakers to be Premiership winners in 2017. At such long odds, new customers may look to use the Aussie Free Bet’s rugby free bets list in order to maximise potential winnings.
After a positive start to the season, it appeared that the Dragons’ luck was running out when they suffered three defeats in a row, two of which came against the top-two. A narrow loss to the Roosters on April 25th was followed up by home defeats to Melbourne and Cronulla, as McGregor’s side began to falter in the league.
Since then, St George have found another gear, and are now on course to narrow the gap at the top of the NRL table in the coming weeks. Back-to-back victories have sandwiched a bye week, as McGregor’s side continue to defy odds.
A convincing victory over New Zealand Warriors away from home helped to put McGregor’s men back on track, which was well backed up two weeks later as Gareth Widdop inspired a 16-12 triumph over West Tigers on his comeback from a knee injury.
Widdop’s return from injury is a welcome boost for the Dragons, who were beginning to lose their stride in the NRL, and their captain’s returning performance against the Tigers will give McGregor real confidence heading into the second half of the season.
Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, both the Dragons and McGregor deserve immense credit for their turnaround in form. However, after such an impressive first half of the year, combined with Widdop’s emphatic return, expectations will be high.
Issues still need to be addressed, most notably the Dragons’ form against their direct rivals – who they recently suffered back-to-back defeats to – but McGregor will be confident his side can produce something special in 2017, which nobody would have predicted.