Jack de Belin believes a lack of mental strength cost St George Illawarra last season – a problem that won’t be repeated in 2018.
De Belin has returned to pre-season training with the Dragons as the club look to get off to another fast start to the season in their quest to play finals football.
St George Illawarra started the 2017 campaign roaring, sitting on top of the table after seven rounds. But a mid-season slump and a poor finish to the year saw them miss the finals.
But rather than any physical or tactical problems, de Belin is adamant the mental side of the game is what hurt the Dragons the most during their slide.
“I suppose it is how you deal with adversity and that’s probably a big area where a lot of players could probably improve is the mental aspect,” he told the Leader.
“Being able to handle all the criticism week in, week out of rugby league.
“I don’t know what you could pin it to but just when we needed to turn up and perform we didn’t. I feel like it’s not because we weren’t fit enough or strong enough because we definitely were and we showed that. I feel like it was the mental department that let us down there.
“I don’t know if it was us not wanting the moment enough or seeing the importance in the situation it’s just we’ve got to push through and get the win when we need to.”
What hurt even more for de Belin was the fact that he had enjoyed arguably the best season of his career personally. His strong early season form even had him in State of Origin calculations for NSW before eventually missing out.
The 26-year-old described last season as a missed opportunity. But the heartache of not playing finals football is all the motivation the new-look Dragons squad need to return to the post-season.
The signings of Ben Hunt and James Graham add real quality to a Dragons side already boasting representative stars Tyson Frizell and Gareth Widdop, exciting youngsters Matt Dufty, Jai Field and Euan Aitken and the experienced Jason Nightingale and Joel Thompson.
“Obviously we had the highs and the lows. But to not be playing in the finals there we underachieved,” de Belin said.
“Looking back on it and we set ourselves up for pole position there at the start of the year with plenty of wins. We lost our way a bit and couldn’t find the consistency to string performances together. It was bitterly disappointing to not be playing finals footy because we were too good a side to be sitting out watching the other teams play.
“On paper we had one of the most dominant forward packs and some lethal outside backs. Then again this year I feel like we’ve only upgraded. [We should be aiming for] definitely top four and got to be playing finals.”