A Shallow Dive into the 2020 St George Illawarra Dragons
From earlier in the year:
The squad itself isn’t magic but should be better than last place. New signing Isaac Luke has always been a productive player but he will presumably be second fiddle to Cameron McInnes when he returns from injury, reducing the potential volume of work Luke could be doing. Indeed, St George Illawarra are extremely reliant on their spine to perform. While Hunt, Norman and McInnes have been productive, I don’t think they’ve been especially effective. The Dragons are also still searching for a fullback. Lomax may or may not be it.
If Flanagan really is the de facto, if not de jure, head coach, then he should be able to coax that performance out of the roster. If McGregor is still in charge, then a 5-0 start will turn into a 7-17 season and the cycle will begin anew.
A couple of swings and misses – Flanagan didn’t feature, Luke transferred mid-season to Brisbane, Lomax went back to centre after two games and they finally found their fullback – but generally, the cycle repeated except without the fast start to the season. Yawns ensued.
Not much was expected of the Dragons this year. They didn’t have the cattle, the coach or the will to do much. While there were a few surprise results, a 7-13 would not have been far above realistic expectations. As was the case three of the previous four of these reviews, the head coach, Paul McGregor, was fired.
The Dragons were a non-entity. They were bad but not in a way that was interesting. St George Illawarra would have been a team that most sides had pencilled in for the two points. They picked up four wins against bottom eight sides plus one against Cronulla (embarrassing), another against Parramatta (inexplicable) and a last round win over the Sunshine Coast-Eastern Suburbs Tigcons.
Good teams’ Elo ratings improve over the course of the season and bad teams’ ratings collapse. Sometimes teams can build some momentum and then fall away. We might be interested in seeing how a coach or player adapts to a new environment and see this reflected in the team’s rating. These are theoretically interesting scenarios.
The Dragons offered none of these narratives.
The Dragons improved from equal worst in the league at round four to below average by round nine and then that was it for the year. They were stuck in a subpar purgatory. There was no rhyme or reason to it: football happened and these were the results.
From another way of looking at it, Dragons’ games yielded the least information of any team in the NRL. We use Elo ratings to estimate a pre-game winning probability, expressed as a percentage, based on the ratings of the two teams. The margin at the end of the game is converted to an equivalent percentage and the difference between the two percentages is what is used to adjust the rating up or down.
What this chart shows is the sum of those differences between expectation (pre-game winning probability) and reality (post-game conversion from margin to percentage) for each team. Small changes mean that the pre-game ratings were correct, minimal adjustment is needed and that the game hasn’t told much new. From July to September, you didn’t need to watch Dragons games because you already knew pretty well what was going to happen.
The only geniuine surprise was Matt Dufty finally making something of himself. Dufty managed to finish eleventh on the overall WARG leaderboard and fifth among fullbacks, doubling his career WARG in one season.
Like Nofoaluma and Feldt, we may have to temper these productive performances by acknowledging WARG does not do a good job of measuring defensive capability and Net Points Responsible For at least makes the attempt.
There you go, there might be something there. Let’s see if he can do it again.
Griffinball. The retread coach that’s been fired from both Penrith and Brisbane is back and this time, he’s racist af. As someone with a reputation for an uninteresting brand of football plus his work history, I don’t think I can in good conscience recommend watching any Dragons games moving forward.
If, for some reason, you don’t find this a compelling argument and insist on watching the Dragons, next year at least offers the prospect of confirming if Matt Dufty is legit now and watching the development of the likes of Adam Clune, Mikaele Ravalawa, Jason Saab and Tristan Sailor. Oh wait, they let the last two go. Presumably they were too ethnic for their new coach.
[It has since come to light since first publishing this that Tristan Sailor is allegedly a scumbag. My apologies for suggesting that the Dragons were awful racists in letting him go. Instead, they are scumbags for signing him in the first place.]
The Dragons also need to resolve their Corey Norman problem. It’s not his play, although it is that, so much as his huge, millstone of a salary. At a lower price, he might have a future but he does not deserve an elite playmaker’s salary. The freed up cash could be used to replenish their dire forward pack, which other than an aging Paul Vaughan, lacks big names as Frizell departs for Newcastle and Graham long gone for St Helens. It won’t matter who the halves are or how much they are paid if the forward pack is butter.
It doesn’t look great for St George Illawarra. They don’t have the cattle, the coach or the will. The yawns look to continue.