A Year of Lowered Expectations

October 3, 2010 is a night that will stay with me for the duration. When Nathan Fien dived over the line with ten minutes to play in the NRL Grand Final, giving the St George Illawarra Dragons an unassailable 24 point lead, I was able to sit back in my seat for the remainder of the game and soak up the collected feelings of pride, joy and pure relief buzzing around ANZ stadium. Looking down at the sea of red and white below me moving as a single, united force, I saw for the first time that through the decades of frustration, shattered dreams and misplaced hopes, I was not alone. It was a wonderful feeling.

That night was to have another consequence, one which I could not have known at the time. From that night onwards, my experience as a Dragons fan was forever divided into two eras: Before Wayne and After Wayne. Over the years, I have seen some great St George teams and some weak ones. Some seasons we have had the best roster in the competition; other years, our hopes have rested on the likes of Nick Zisti, Chris Quinn and Rod Maybon. There have been grand final appearances, countless semi-finals, and the seeming endlessness of those losing seasons when our race is run ten games into the year.

However, before October 3, 2010, my expectations were exactly the same at the start of each season regardless: This MUST be our year; I physically can’t take another year of only imagining what a premiership feels like.

However, as I kept finding out, yes I could. Of the many life lessons sport provides, the one most mercilessly reasserted year after year is that victories are mere stopovers on a lifelong tour of failure and rejection. They are to be savoured and hoped for, but never assumed or relied upon. Like any good father, mine rammed in the point early and often that life isn’t fair. Neither is football.

This year is different. When you don’t have a lifetime of pent-up frustration and agony riding on the outcome, the stakes are lowered considerably. Watching Ben Hornby hoist the premiership trophy over his head later this year just doesn’t hold the life-or-death levels of importance it did just a few short years ago. A good thing too, as, on paper at least, the Dragons seem to be a few yards off the pace.

As such, I am entering the upcoming season with a different set of expectations. We have lost the most successful Rugby League coach in history. We have lost a fullback in his prime who was the fulcrum of our attacking structure. We have lost one of the best centres of the decade. We have an aging roster. We have an inexperienced coach carrying the hopes of one of the most demanding sets of fans in the country. We have recruited poorly. We lack the creative spark and spontaneity possessed by other teams in the competition. In short, there are a couple of issues.

With such obstacles weighing down our premiership assault, making the top eight this year can be considered an unqualified success. Ask me again six weeks into the season and I might feel differently, but for now this is the reality of the situation. And for the first time, that is enough for me.

Comments

  1. As a Dragon tragic I agree, Michael, but I see a bright future for the red & whites. Some good youngsters coming through: Kyle Stanley will be a gun, Cameron King is going to be more than solid, Evander Cummins at fullback is dynamite, Trent Merrin still only 21 or so, Jack de Balin a real prospect, Soward young enough still, and we have a host of good young forwards…. we may dip a little this season but we won’t be in the doldrums this year or for a while yet.
    I hope.

  2. Michael Adams says:

    Absolutely, the future is bright and I’m confident we won’t have to wait another 30 years to see a premiership. Short term however, I think the creativity issue is massive. We don’t have the squad anymore to play the regimented, structured attack that won us the comp. I’m hoping Price lets Jamie Soward off the leash a bit this year- we’ve seen how damaging he can be when he takes the line on and he must be one of the quickest players in the comp over 40 metres. He seemed to forget that in the back half of 2011. If he can form a combination with Kyle Stanley the sky’s the limit.

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