NRLW Dragons season preview 2019

A last-place finish in 2018 wouldn't have sat well with St George Illawarra despite the tightest of competitions in the inaugural season.  

The club is back 12 months later ready to make amends and they've bought with them enough cavalry to go from the bottom straight to the top.

Led by Jillaroos forward and NSW captain Kezie Apps, a core group of local juniors remain at the club, while an abundance of interstate and international players arrive. 

Whether they like it or not the favourite's tag is with them in 2019 but with new recruits comes immediate expectation and the question will be asked; can the Dragons handle the pressure and live up to the hype?

The Outlook

What's new

Personnel. It's as simple as that. Everything else is almost the same for the girls in the Red V. They'll run out with a brand new spine and backline to give the Dragons an untested but whole new look during the second season. 

"We spoke last year about building the team and we probably weren't expecting to blow everyone off the park," Dragons forward Holli Wheeler told NRL.com.

"We were building for this year and I wanted to be a part of that."

The draw

The Dragons kick-start their campaign with a clash against defending champions Brisbane at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday afternoon, before travelling to Mt Smart Stadium to play the Warriors in Auckland. 

A clash against the Roosters is locked in for round three at Leichhardt Oval on September 29. 

The stat that gives you hope

Brittany Breayley's arrival will tighten the defensive line for the Dragons, who leaked 66 points in three games. She'll also add an improved dynamic in attack while linking with Kimiora Nati and Maddie Studdon at the scrumbase. 

Breayley led the NRLW with four try assists last year and was ranked first in dummy-half runs (24) while topping the overall tackle count with 124. 

The former Bronco is the only player last year's premiers were eager to keep, and it's little wonder with the Jillaroos hooker judged Dally M medallist at season's end.

The coach

Daniel Lacey returns for another season in charge and will be assisted by new mum Sam Bremner and Alicia-Kate Hawke, who have been named as his assistants.

Lacey continues to monitor the progress and be a key figure at grassroots level while identifying the next crop of stars coming through the NSW system.

He'll help guide through the likes of next generation players Maddison Weatherall, Aaliyah Fasavalu-Fa'amausili and Shaylee Bent during the upcoming campaign.

"I do feel the pressure," Lacey told NRL.com. "It's something that all four coaches want so badly and none of us have won a premiership technically. I tend to look at the other teams and think how are we going to beat them.

"I know I've got a lot of strike power and depth but we've also got to come together in a short space of time and nullify teams and their strengths too."

Brittany Breayley and Kezie Apps join forces at the Dragons this season.
Brittany Breayley and Kezie Apps join forces at the Dragons this season. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Player movement/Contract matters

The Dragons have been the biggest movers in the recruitment market with just eight players retained from last year's squad and 14 fresh faces arriving in Wollongong. 

As mentioned before, their biggest signings are easily Brittany Breayley from the Broncos and NSW halfback Maddie Studdon, who shifts south after a stint at the Roosters.

Kimiora Nati, who won best on ground for the Broncos in last year's NRLW grand final, is expected to team up with Studdon in the halves.

Other coups include Origin representatives Steph Mooka and Botille Vette-Welsh, who are just about direct replacements for Honey Hireme and Sam Bremner. 

Shakiah Tungai scores for the Blues in the Origin clash at North Sydney Oval.
Shakiah Tungai scores for the Blues in the Origin clash at North Sydney Oval. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The game-breaker

Shakiah Tungai's name has been floating around for the past 18 months and the speedy winger finally got her chance on the representative stage in June for NSW as the Blues went back-to-back.

Tungai had a solid inaugural season in the NRLW last year with a runway try against the Warriors in round two a highlight. Her combination with Botille-Vette Welsh and Steph Mooka on the left edge in 2019 could be lethal if the combination clicks into gear immediately.

The player you should follow on social media

Jess Sergis

There's plenty to like about one of the rising stars in our game with Jess Sergis having an Instagram profile to match. 

The NSW representative missed out on a Jillaroos debut last season due to an ankle injury but bounced back to star for the Blues in June. An international game beckons for the young gun if she manages a successful NRLW campaign. 

 
 
 
 
 
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When you rock up to training and your accidentally matching 🤦🏻‍♀️🤣 #copycat

A post shared by Jessica Sergis (@jessicasergis) on

The quote

"One of the biggest things I've found is there is a lot of versatility in this squad and it's a good headache to have. We've got women who can play in the middle and edge and in the backs which is great. At the last minute I want them to be prepared to move anywhere and be familiar with the role if we're in that situation on the field." - Daniel Lacey.

Squad

Kezie Apps, Jessica Sergis, Shakiah Tungai, Holli Wheeler, Keeley Davis, Rikeya Horne, Maddison Weatherall, Aaliyah Fasavalu-Fa'amausili, Maddie Studdon, Brittany Breayley, Teuila Fotu-Moala, Maitua Feterika, Kimiora Nati, Ngatokotoru Arakua, Botille Vette-Welsh, Sarah Togatuki, Stephanie Mooka, Najvada George, Tiana Penitani, Alexandrea Kiriwi, Shaylee Bent, Takilele Katoa.

Tarsha Gale's prediction

Finish: 1st

The Dragons are shaping up to be the team to beat in 2019. I have no doubt that they will be there on grand final day. They have maintained a strong core group led by Kezie Apps, Holli Wheeler and Jess Sergis. Clever coach Daniel Lacey has added some star power with the signing of Brittany Breayley and Maddie Studdon, along with an unstoppable forward pack that boasts the likes of Teuila Fotu-Moala and Maitua Feterika. I can only see this going one way and that's the Dragons taking home the premiership trophy in 2019.