The St George Illawarra Dragons ended an outstanding regular season in top spot with 31 points after 24 rounds, deservedly being crowned minor premiers for 2019.
The first-place result after a gruelling 2019 campaign also continues the Dragons’ run of dominance as one of the Canterbury Cup NSW's strongest competitors of recent seasons, finishing among the top-two for the third time in four years.
Considering the season they had, the Dragons can be forgiven for coming ever so close to a Grand Final appearance, but there is more to look forward to in 2020 after a year in which they produced the best attacking record (588 points scored) and least defeats (6) in the competition.
Their highlight moment
Round 7 v North Sydney Bears - 50-24 W
The Dragons’ highlight moment was not just their first and only half-century of the season, but the win also came against a fellow top-four rival in the North Sydney Bears.
Jai field opened proceedings after eight minutes, scooting over the line off the back a Jackson Ford break.
North Sydney soon replied with a four-pointer to Tom Freebairn, and both sides traded blows for the rest of the half - with two more tries apiece - as the Bears took an 18-16 lead into the break.
The Bears managed one try early in the second yet could not score for the rest of match as the Dragons piled on 34 points, including doubles for Tristan Sailor, Jason Saab and Jackson Ford to seal the win.
Simply their best
Jackson Ford showed plenty of promise throughout the season, leading to a deserved first-grade debut in a breakout year for the 21-year-old.
The St George Illawarra second-rower was commended for a brilliant 2019 upon receiving the Dragons’ Canterbury Cup Player of the Year award, and was also named in the Canterbury Cup Team of the Week on numerous occasions during the year.
Ford was a major point of difference in the Dragons’ attack, scoring the most tries of any forward in the competition (13). He also produced a total of 3155 run metres (4th) including 1111 post-contact (5th), and made 678 tackles (11th).
Room for improvement
While St George Illawarra were THE stats leaders in key attacking areas such as try-assists (91) and line-break assists (90), the Dragons will need to address their ball-control if they are to keep progressing next year.
Despite ending the season atop the competition ladder, the Dragons recorded the most errors (256) in 2019 and, as result, finished eighth in average set completion (72.7%).
Although the numbers suggest that the Dragons may have taken more risks in attack than their competition, if they can minimise the amount of possession allowed to opposition sides, it could be enough to see them earn the ultimate prize in 2020.
Soward's season grading
Really disappointed with how they finished the season with a loss in the Preliminary Final. I thought they had the style to win the whole thing but they were a victim of how their first-grade team was performing.
They made some changes and had some guys play in Finals Week One but just couldn't switch it on when it mattered and it was another opportunity missed for the Red V.
This season grading is the opinion of Jamie Soward, based purely on performance factors throughout the 2019 season, and does not nessecarily reflect the views of NSWRL.