Gareth Widdop in action for the Dragons.
Gareth Widdop in action for the Dragons. CRAIG GOLDING

Heat on Dragons over alarming slide

COMMENTS this past week - attributed to incoming Broncos assistant coach Jason Demetriou - that Benji Marshall had been made a scapegoat for the poor form of the mighty St George Illawarra Dragons in recent seasons were interesting, to say the least.

Cynics might have construed the observation by the former Dragons assistant as sour grapes. After all, Demetriou has just quit the Dragons to join the Broncos, and maybe he didn't leave on the best of terms.

Others may have interpreted the remarks as a confidence-builder to Marshall who, along with the new coach, has joined the Broncos stable. Demetriou was quick to heap praise on Marshall, especially his versatility value to a team.

But the observations became a little more valid when England coach Wayne Bennett stunningly dropped Gareth Widdop from the Four Nations team for yesterday's clash with Scotland. Suddenly the spotlight was turned on the Dragons, and their coaching philosophy.

Let's face it, since Bennett left the Dragons at the end of 2011 the once-mighty club has been little better than an NRL also ran. Apart from last year when they played one finals match, they have finished ninth, 14th, 11th and 11th respectively since Bennett's departure.

And no one better typifies the slide in form of some of the high-profile players at the Dragons than Widdop.

When he was enticed from the Storm at the end of the 2013 season, Widdop was considered among the very elite players in the game. Not only was his move viewed as a massive boost for the Dragons, but Storm fans were devastated to lose a genuine member of their big four.

Despite giving his all, averaging 24 games in each of his three seasons and scoring 452 points for the Dragons, Widdop has faded to become a shadow of his former self. And for a player of his status to be dumped from the England side exemplifies the seriousness of the situation.

But, sadly for Dragons fans, he is not the only player to have suffered a massive form slump over the past few seasons.

Two years ago livewire hooker Mitch Rein was universally viewed as next in line behind Robbie Farah and Michael Ennis as Blues Origin hooker. Such has been his decline, and loss of confidence, that he has signed with the Panthers as back-up to veteran Peter Wallace.

And there's Trent Merrin. He left the Dragons and after just one season at the Panthers is suiting up for the Kangaroos.

Add to the equation the retirement of skipper Ben Creagh and Mike Cooper returning to England, and the immediate future for Red V fans looks grim, although their feeder side - the Illawarra Cutters - did win the NSW Cup and the NRL Interstate Championship. Ironically their coach was the departing Demetriou.

The age-old question about team sport remains - does the coach make the player or do the players make the coach?

Maybe, in the respective cases of under-performing Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall, the answer lies with Wayne Bennett.

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