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How a ‘feisty’ opposed session with Waratahs could help spark Dragons into NRL success

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It’s no secret that St George Illawarra have been struggling – not just for the past few years, but for the past decade.

And while an opposed session against a rugby union outfit might not solve all their problems, the Dragons looking outside the box might not be the worst idea.

After showing glimpses of a side capable of playing finals in 2022, the club fell away towards the back-end of the year, finishing in 10th spot and missing the top-eight for a fourth-straight year. 

The pressure is already mounting on head coach Anthony Griffin heading into the season, with rumours of a divided playing group and young stars Jayden Sullivan and Tyrell Sloan both seeking releases from their contracts.

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Just last week, Junior Amone and Zac Lomax were involved in a heated scuffle at pre-season training, leading to more headlines for the Red V after the off-season produced plenty of negative talk around the club. 

A large majority of the players skipped the Dragons presentation night, leading to criticism from fans, the media and even the club’s captain Ben Hunt.

But with the 2023 season around the corner, Jack de Belin believes the break has done wonders for the playing group.

“I think going away for the break and all the boys getting away from footy, and then coming back we’ve got one goal in mind – and that’s success and excellence,” he said.

“I think we’ve all got a clear focus and we are all very united.”

The decision from the Dragons to take on the NSW Waratahs in a mixed rules opposed session on Monday – just days out from their Christmas break – is certainly out of the norm for an NRL club.

The two sides dipped their toes in the water of the other code and veteran prop Aaron Woods admits the challenges the side faced while adapting to a new set of rules could be of their benefit next year.

“It was good fun today – it was just different, the games and the styles are different,” he said.

“I think the first game we played was the union one and we didn’t adapt to the rules – it took us a bit to get going. We were going back 10 metres and you only need to go back one, they played to their strengths – I think Kurtley Beale showed us up a bit there.

“They are both different toughness and fitness and it was really good fun. It got a bit feisty in the opposed session there with the big fella in the middle for the Waratahs, and Jack Bird has always got that push and shove in him, so it was expected.


“I think just the composure – we went to a different game and it took us a while to adapt to it. It’s probably something that as a club at times in games, when things go wrong it takes us a while to adapt.

“If we can move on quickly and take our opportunities, it could be a lot better for us.”

Woods is one player who has plenty to prove next year, coming off a poor first year with St George Illawarra and his deal with the club set to expire at the end of 2023.

The former NSW and Kangaroos forward is hoping to continue his career – as long as he is enjoying his football and helping the next generation find their feet in the top grade. 

“I’ll see how I go – I’ve been enjoying it these last couple of years and I think I’ve been off-contract the last two or three years,” he said.

“As long as I’m enjoying it, I will keep going. I’m doing a bit of media work here and there with Triple M, getting to call some footy, and I’d love to do that when I retire.

“I’ve still got a couple of years left in the legs – but the moment I don’t enjoy it…that’s the moment I will hang the boots up.

“We have some really good young players that have been good for the last couple of years, but they are first graders now and we can’t say they have ability, they’ve got to come out and do it.

“They are first graders now, they’re not just kids who are happy to be there – they’ve got to own that jersey and we want them to dominate games.”

St George Illawarra will have a bye in the opening round of next year, before a clash with the Titans in Round 2. 


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