Why the Dragons are confident ahead of 2023 NRL campaign despite rocky pre-season

Heading into the 2023 NRL season, things have not been going smoothly for the St. George-Illawarra Dragons.

After missing out on last year’s final, two disappointing losses in friendly matches and a string of negative events off the field suggest this season could be a tough one.

Despite this, some of their key players remain confident for the upcoming campaign.

MORE: Dragon’s 2023 season preview

Full focus on correcting the poor pre-season

NRL veteran Aaron Woods is entering his second season with the Dragons and believes the team’s two Test losses to the St. Helens and the Rabbitohs were substandard but ultimately unrepresentative of their abilities.

“Preseason is hard to judge… I’ve been at it long enough and you just have to get through these friendlies,” Woods said The sports news.

“But when the season comes we will be ready to go.

“The worst thing for us is not being able to play after our poor performance in Charity Shield Round 1. We have to wait an extra week. I know a lot of guys want out because of that last performance wasn’t what we’re about.

“So we have a chance to improve. We have an extra week to practice and we really need to show what we can do.”

A bye in Round 1 also means some key players can fully recover ahead of their opening game.

Jack de Belin (calf) and Jack Bird (knee) both missed preseason games but confirmed it The sports news They are in line to take the field this week.

De Belin shared that he is feeling “amazing” while Bird is recovering from knee surgery a few weeks ago.

“It’s really one of the first times in years that I’ve been that confident with my body, so I’m looking forward to getting out of there,” Bird said.

Why Woods thinks the Titans ‘might surprise a lot of people’

After their opening round bye, the Dragons begin their season with a home game against the Titans.

Woods stressed the need to launch her campaign successfully while drawing attention off the field to her on-field achievements.

“Our first game is great, especially in Kogarah. You want to win all your home games – you have a good chance of reaching the semifinals [by doing that]. So that’s a huge goal,” he said.

“We’ve been in the media for the wrong things lately. So we just want to come in and play football.

“We haven’t helped ourselves with what we’ve been doing off the field but we just need to duck our heads and just focus on football now.”

On paper, the Dragons have a nice opening streak. They will face the Titans (twice), Broncos, Sharks, Dolphins and Raiders in their first six games.

While their schedule could be a source of early points, Woods is wary of the unpredictability of his team’s opponents, particularly the Titans.

“Everyone says we have a favorable schedule [to start the season]but the Titans recruited really well,” he explained.

“They brought Kieran Foran and Sam Verrils, so they’re going to be good and surprise a lot of people.

“The Cowboys last year – everyone thought they were going to play wooden spoons but they ended up in the top four. So they don’t yet know what a good and a bad draw is.”

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Dragons optimistic about final sprint

The Dragons haven’t made the top eight since 2019, but players seem optimistic they can return to the Finals.

De Belin in particular is entering 2023 with great confidence and is determined to reach the final after several seasons.

“I say that every year, but I really believe we will be [playing finals in 2023],” he said.

“Obviously we haven’t been there in recent years and since I’ve been playing again it’s been disappointing.

“As a footy player you want to play there at the end of the year when it matters.

“But I’m confident we’ll be there this year and I expect we’ll play finals.”

Woods also believes the Red V has what it takes to make the eight, but outlined key areas that need improvement.

“We’re betting on our ability. There’s nothing we worry about when we’re playing the footy that we know we can play,” he said.

“But that’s the problem with us – we have to do it consistently. Last year we beat some really good teams but we just weren’t consistent enough.

“This season we only have small tasks to do early on, and big games come later in the game. We have Zac Lomax and Moses Suli who can create things out of thin air.

“So I think it’s going to start with our middle – we have to defend really well, work hard for each other and turn the sides away.”

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