It was one of the toughest seasons in the club’s history but young St George Illawarra forward Jacob Host believes 2016 could help the Dragons reach the NRL’s top four.
The Dragons finished 11th last season, scored the least points in a season in the club’s history and won just 10 games. To make things worse, while their fans suffered watching their side struggle, the Dragons’ bitter neighbours from the shire celebrated their first premiership.
But that disappointment has brought the squad closer together. And their new signings give the club a stronger look.
The Dragons’ strong pack remains, with the likes of Joel Thompson, Russell Packer and the outstanding Tyson Frizell to be joined by former Canberra prop Paul Vaughan.
They have speed in their backline with the acquisition of Nene Macdonald from the Gold Coast and the possible inclusion of exciting youngster Matt Dufty. There is also class and experience in Josh Dugan, Jason Nightingale and captain Gareth Widdop, who will look to bounce back after a disappointing season.
And 20-year-old Host, who made a bright start to his NRL career last season, told the Leader the lessons learned last season would help the Dragons breathe fire in 2017.
“I’m a year older, I got to experience eight games last year which I think was really good for me. I think now I’ve got some really good bonds with the boys, having gone through a tough season. We can definitely build on it,” he said.
“Adversity is something that can really test a group but I think it’s definitely brought us closer together.
“It’s tested our character and our resolve but I reckon we’re going to be better for it this year.”
A strong start to the year is vital for St George Illawarra with winnable home matches against Penrith, Parramatta, the New Zealand Warriors and the Wests Tigers in their opening five games along with the local derby against premiers Cronulla.
Host, a Renown United junior, grew up in the St George area as a fan of the club. That love of the Red V ensures he understands the honour – and pressures – of playing for the club better than most.
But it is a challenge he relishes. And Host is confident the Dragons can surprise many by challenging for the top four.
“There’s always pressure. Playing for the Dragons, a club with such a rich history, and it’s such a successful club that it’s expected of us to be successful,” he said.
“I guess we can feel it a little bit at times but we just try to keep it out of our heads, focus on what we control rather than what outside sources put on us.
“I reckon we’re definitely capable of pushing for a top four spot at least. We’ve got a real good roster. We’ve got a great forward pack, good combinations in the halves and the back five. I think we’ll be giving a lot of teams a run for their money.”