Phil Gould doesn’t know who will win this year’s NRL premiership, but he can guarantee one thing – the Dragons won’t get the wooden spoon.
The embattled merger club is well and truly in the gun, as is the coach Anthony Griffin, whose job is at risk if the Red V can’t improve on last year’s showing.
Griffin was brought in two years ago and tasked with arresting a mediocre decade on the field, which has reaped only five finals games since St George Illawarra won the competition in 2010.
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Instead the team has finished 11th and 12th on the ladder, and punters are backing the Dragons to finish closer to 17th than first again this year.
Gould, though, won’t have a bar of that argument.
“They are a million to one to run last. They will not runs last,” Gould told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“Their roster’s far better than that. There is no chance the Dragons are running last, zero. The talent level is too good.
“Whether they reach their potential – and they haven’t reached their potential over the last few years – it remains to be seen.
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“They may well get it right this year, I don’t know, but they will not run last.
“They’ve had some bad headlines and some poor trial results… trial results mean absolutely nothing.
“I’ll guarantee you the Dragons will not run last in this competition. There are a lot worse teams than the Dragons in this competition.”
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On Wednesday, Dragons captain Ben Hunt fired up when the suggestion was put to him the team could run last.
“We’re not getting the wooden spoon,” Hunt said.
“I think we’re a genuine finals team. We need to be.”
St George Illawarra collected the title in 2010 under supercoach Wayne Bennett, but the club has mostly struggled to replicate that form since.
The Red V reached finals in 2011, 2015, and 2018, but never made it further than the second week of the post-season.
The club has never finished a season in last place, since merging in 1999.
Having had the bye in round one, the Dragons kick off their 2023 season against Gold Coast on Sunday.
They’ve had to contend with a number of unfavourable headlines in recent months, including police charges against Talatau Amone and a teammate dust-up between Mikaele Ravalawa and Zane Musgrove following the Charity Shield in Mudgee.
While the chips seem to be stacked against them, Gould says adversity makes the team a more dangerous prospect.
“I think they’ll be good (against the Titans). They are out to prove themselves,” he said.
“When people are doubting you, and criticising you, what do you do? If you’re worth your salt you get out there and prove people wrong.
“Every now and then you’ve got to make a statement about yourself. It’s a good time for the Dragons to make a statement about themselves.
“I’d like to be preparing the Dragons this week. I think they’ve got everything to play for.”
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