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St George Illawarra, then under the leadership of master coach Wayne Bennett, won the National Rugby League Grand Final four years ago but it is grossly over the odds to collect the competition’s wooden spoon this season.
National Rugby League bookmakers have been burned on wooden spoon markets in recent years because of points deductions so one has to bet on St George Illawarra registering the most losses at odds of 11.00 with 888sport.
It is well worth tracking down the market on the website of either 888sport and Unibet because St George Illawarra is set for a miserable season, one that has a good chance of ending with the joint-venture club’s first wooden spoon and the first for either St George or Illawarra since 1989.
St George Illawarra has been in steady decline since it won the 2010 National Rugby League Grand Final, beating Sydney 32-8 in the premiership decider. Having been the top team during the regular term for two years in a row – 2009 and 2010 – St George Illawarra fell to fifth in 2011, slumped to ninth in 2012 and crashed to 14th in 2013. And the odds are that the only way is down for St George Illawarra in 2014.
Supporters of St George Illawarra were hoping that, having watched the Dragons lose six of their last seven National Rugby League matches last term, they would have a stronger side to watch this season. But, for whatever reason, St George Illawarra’s recruitment has been abysmal, with the Dragons looking weaker than 12 months ago and banking on former Melbourne five-eighth Gareth Widdop for points.
Widdop functioned well in the Melbourne system but it is going to be a different ball game for him not being able to lean on the likes of Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith. One remembers Castleford signing Sean Rudder in the 2000s because he had looked okay playing outside the one and only Andrew Johns. Castleford regretted recruiting Rudder and St George Illawarra may end up feeling likewise about Widdop. Certainly Widdop has a lot to prove this year.
If Widdop does not fire than St George Illawarra will need Josh Dugan to do even more. The problem is that Dugan hurt his left knee during St George Illawarra’s listless 20-38 Charity Shield loss to South Sydney, an injury that looks set to put him out of action for at least the first month of the National Rugby League tournament. Do not be fooled by the 20-38 scoreline – St George Illawarra trailed 0-12 and 4-38 before South Sydney took pity on its traditional foe.
St George Illawarra was not sufficiently good last year, its pack of forwards could not match it with South Sydney’s six in the Charity Shield on Saturday – it was as if the Dragons were playing outside their age group – and its halfback pairing of Widdop and Sam Williams is ordinary. Dugan is injury prone and St George Illawarra’s best forward, Trent Merrin, is likely to miss games due to State of Origin.
One is expecting Parramatta and Wests Tigers, the two sides that finished below St George Illawarra on the 2013 National Rugby League ladder, to improve past the Dragons. Although one is tipping that teams such as Brisbane and Gold Coast will regress, the Broncos and the Titans lost four fewer matches than St George Illawarra last term so they have a bit of breathing space with regards to the wooden spoon.
St George Illawarra should be close to the National Rugby League wooden spoon/most losses/least wins favourite. And it does not help St George Illawarra that it opens up against Wests Tigers (home but actually neutral), the Warriors (away) and Cronulla (away derby). National Rugby League media will bill St George Illawarra versus Wests Tigers as a potential wooden spoon decider in Round One. If St George Illawarra loses to Wests Tigers, the chances are that it will be 0-3 prior to hosting Brisbane on Friday 28 March and Dragons boss Steve Price will be under the microscope.
Back St George Illawarra to be the National Rugby League’s worst side in 2014. St George Illawarra should be no bigger than odds of 5.00 so grab the odds of 11.00 while they last.