Rugby league icon Phil Gould says he is “stunned” that many pundits have St George Illawarra in the running for this year’s NRL wooden spoon, dismissing those calls and touting the Dragons as “a luck in the top eight”.
For the majority of the off-season, most bookies had the Dragons level with the Wests Tigers to finish the season in last place, after the club was rocked by the barbecue scandal and lost the last eight games of his season.
But the Dragons attracted a host of prized recruits over the summer – including bulldozers George Burgess, Jayden Su’A, Aaron Woods, Francis Molo and Moses Suli – and were rejuvenated by several electric youngsters who made their debuts in recent seasons, including Tyrell Sloan, Cody Ramsey, Jayden Sullivan and Talatau Amone.
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The Dragons, managed by Ben Hunt, also secured the services of former Queensland State of Origin playmaker Moses Mybe during the off-season.
“I was amazed that some people gave them like a wooden spoon. They’ll be a lot closer to the top than the bottom when we stop this competition. I think they’re in the top eight,” Gould said on Wide World of Sports’ Six tackles with Gus.
“They’ll be in that kind of middle tier; somewhere between sixth and 10th, that’s where I see them right now.
“I see them much better than many teams in this competition.”
The likes of Sloan, Ramsey and Amone had great moments in both St George Illawarra’s Test matches which saw them beat Parramatta and South Sydney.
Those performances followed brilliant glimpses on the NRL stage in 2021, including in July a searing try from Sloan and a brilliant setup for a four-point Gerard Beale.
“These young children are very, very special,” Gould said.
“They have points in them. The hardest part of coming out of the cellar is the belief that you can score points.
“Defense wins you comps, the best defensive teams win comps, in general.
“But the ability to score points is what gets you up the ladder and into contention. You have to find points because it gives your team confidence, it gives you more points to defend until your defense is up to snuff If you have an inability to score points as soon as the opponent leads 6-0 or 12-0, heads drop, confidence is sucked, they start to catch up.
“The Dragons with these kids – I don’t think the scoreboard will ever intimidate them. They play with a freedom and a spirit that I hope won’t be taken away from them. I hope they can be themselves and find their own way.”
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Gould stressed the importance of tall men for the Dragons this season.
Rookies Burgess, Su’A, Molo and Woods will form a forward pack already bolstered by Tariq Sims, Jack de Belin, Josh McGuire, Tyrell Fuimaono and Jack Bird.
“With these big boppers that they put in front of them – hopefully they bring them forward and put them on the front foot and also defend the points that they scored,” Gould said.
The Dragons will begin their campaign against the Warriors at Sunshine Coast Stadium on March 12.
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