St George Illawarra Dragons enjoy successful 2020 NRL Nines campaign, falling just short of historic double

Breakout: Cody Ramsey was brilliant for the Dragons. Picture: NRL/Twitter
Breakout: Cody Ramsey was brilliant for the Dragons. Picture: NRL/Twitter

After a number of lean seasons, could this be the year of the Dragon?

St George Illawarra celebrated a successful NRL Nines campaign in Perth, winning the inaugural women's tournament while also finishing runners-up in the men's competition.

St George Illawarra, who lost the NRLW grand final to Brisbane in October, put that defeat behind them to upset the highly-fancied Broncos 28-4 in the women's final on Saturday night.

The Dragons then chased what would have been an historic double against North Queensland in the men's final, only to fall just short as they went down 23-14 in an exciting decider.

There were plenty of positives for the Dragons to take out of their campaign. Ben Hunt was outstanding throughout, with Dragons fans no doubt hoping the halfback can take his form into the 2020 season.

Tough forward Josh Kerr was a revelation, while birthday boy Cody Ramsey proved to be the find of the tournament.

The Dragons under-20s player of the year last season was electric, scoring a hat-trick of tries to win St George Illawarra their quarter-final against Penrith in controversial circumstances before missing the final through injury.

Then there will be the confidence boost that reaching a final will bring after a deflating 2019 season marred by constant injury disruptions and off-field distractions.

St George Illawarra's campaign came at a cost though, with Matt Dufty suffering a suspected depressed fracture of his cheekbone and Korbin Sims believed to have re-broken the arm that he injured last season.

New captain Cameron McInnes is also in doubt for round one after suffering a knee injury in the final.

Hunt said the Dragons would be "extremely proud" of their campaign that they would hope to use as a stepping stone towards similar success during the NRL season.

"Obviously [it was] a bit disappointing in the finish there but really proud. We had a lot of young fellas come over with us, had a couple of injuries. I think we just played with a lot of grit. It wasn't pretty at well. But we just hung in there and got a couple of scrappy wins," Hunt said.

"We came back in pretty good shape and we've had a big pre-season so far. We're looking forward to getting stuck into the season. We put last year behind us and we're ready to go again."

Paul McGregor said the Dragons' impressive tournament justified an intense pre-season, with the coach excited to see Ramsay make an impression.

"You always come out to win it. We had a really tough 14 weeks. We've changed a lot of things. The tournament was about building trust and belief in one another and there's no better way to do that than out on the field. Even though it's Nines you get that trust defending beside someone and attacking beside someone. So [it was] nice to get this far," McGregor said.

"Cody's here for the future for sure. I really enjoyed watching Cody play in the 20s last year. And his pre-season has been as good as any player. He's a willing kid, all he wants to do is [learn]. He's a sponge. He's looking to do video every day. Physically he'll fill out in time... but he's valuable to our club going forward that's for sure."

The Dragons thrashed Cronulla in their opening group game on Friday night before falling to Parramatta on Saturday but still did enough to top their pool.

A controversial win over Penrith in their quarter-final was followed by another last gasp victory over the Eels in their semi-final to advance to the decider.

But the Dragons would fall short despite being in the contest for the duration, only for a late Cowboys try to seal their fate.

Dragons women's halfback and Cronulla junior Maddie Studdon was named player of the women's tournament.

The Sharks smashed Canterbury but still missed out on the quarter-finals. Picture: NRL/Twitter

The Sharks smashed Canterbury but still missed out on the quarter-finals. Picture: NRL/Twitter

Star centre Jessica Sergis said winning the inaugural women's tournament meant a lot to the squad.

"We've worked so hard and I guess it means a lot more coming up against the Broncos. We lost to them in the NRLW final last year and it's something we really wanted and we got it and I'm stoked," Sergis said.

"It was tough. I guess if you want it you're going to stick in it and do the grind. That's what we did and I'm really happy we got the win."

Injury was also to hit the Dragons women, with Holli Wheeler suffering a suspected serious knee problem.

St George Illawarra won just one of their three round robin games but did enough to reach the final, where they blew away the Broncos scoring five tries to one.

It was a disappointing tournament for Cronulla, who were bundled out in the pool stage of the men's tournament.

The Sharks were thrashed by the Dragons on Friday night before they scored a convincing 25-4 win over Canterbury on Saturday thanks to a Josh Morris hat-trick.

But it wasn't enough to qualify for the knockout rounds as the Dragons and Eels advanced.

"I just think [against the Dragons] we probably lacked a bit of energy," Morris said.

"We started off well but then we thought we were going to continue and then we had to make a couple of back to back [defensive] sets and we just didn't have any energy after that. We talked about that and had to learn from it. [But] it's nice to get a win."

The Dragons and Sharks will turn their attention to the start of their respective NRL campaigns with the clubs to feature in their first trial matches next weekend.

St George Illawarra travel to the Hunter Valley to take on Newcastle at Maitland, while Cronulla make the trek to Papua New Guinea for an historic clash with Canterbury with both matches to be played on Saturday night.

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