Paul Vaughan is among the Dragons feeeling the State of Origin pinch.  Picture: Craig Golding/AAP
Paul Vaughan is among the Dragons feeeling the State of Origin pinch. Picture: Craig Golding/AAP

Origin's terminally doused Dragons' early season fire

AN OLD mate at my golf club - a rusted-on St George supporter - quizzed me on Wednesday about the issues at the Dragons.

When I told him I didn't know, he retorted, "But you are supposed to be the expert."

So, I dished out what I believe is the problem - a State of Origin hangover. He didn't like that answer, but when we discussed the realities he accepted it.

Having spent time closely involved with the Broncos, I can vouch the State of Origin dilemma is very real.

The physical and mental toll on players involved in this most demanding and high-profile contest is punishing, particularly for those who have not experienced the arena previously.

Fans need only look through David Middleton's Rugby League Annuals to gauge the burden Origin placed on the Broncos, the club that for years provided the bulk of the Queensland team. Seven times, in fact, the Broncos had 11 players involved in an Origin match.

Year after year it was the same old story. Typically, the Broncos would be near the top of the ladder prior to Origin, falter for five or six weeks afterwards and then surge near season's end.

And so it has been with the Dragons this season. They started sensationally, winning 10 of their first dozen games and leaving heavyweights the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Broncos and Storm in their wake.

As a result, five of the Dragons' best were selected for the series, three as debutants. It was a just reward for their outstanding start to the season, but has seemingly been a cross too heavy for the team to bear.

Origin seems to have taken something out of Tariq Sims. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP
Origin seems to have taken something out of Tariq Sims. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP

Since the series finished not one of those five - Paul Vaughan, Jack De Belin, Tyson Frizzell, Tariq Sims or Ben Hunt - has been anywhere near the player he was before Origin.

Many reasons have been trotted out as to why, and any could be accurate. But mental and physical fatigue is without doubt the prime factor.

State of Origin is another beast all together. Nothing these players will ever do can compare to the build-up, the game itself and the outcome.

The euphoria of winning can be just as damning as the distress of losing.

Since the Origin series finished, the Dragons have lost four from five, with the ultimate humiliation last week's 40-4 thumping at the hands of the cellar-dwelling Eels. Add to that the loss of skipper Gareth Widdop - more than likely for the season - and the early season fire from the Dragons appears to have been terminally dowsed.

And coach Paul McGregor, who is among a number of his ilk supposedly facing the axe, must be asking himself why he was so buoyant earlier in the season about his players taking the step to rep level.

McGregor wanted his players to advance. It was important for them to play at the highest level.

He even said he wouldn't "hide under the doona" for fear of what effect it might have on the club. Sadly, for the coach and Dragons fans everywhere, that doona now beckons.

News Corp Australia

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