Coach Steve Price is confident St George Illawarra can regain their status as one of the NRL’s leading teams this season after a raft of personnel changes.
The Dragons were one of the biggest disappointments of the 2013 season, only winning more games than back-to-back wooden spooners Parramatta.
The joint venture have suffered something of a hangover since their breakthrough 2010 premiership triumph and the departure of supercoach Wayne Bennett at the end of 2011.
But the club has recruited smartly for 2014, and Price believes he finally has a team that can make a mark.
“We want to get back to being one of the benchmark clubs of the competition,” Price told AAP.
“And I would like to think that can happen in 2014. It is going to take a little bit of time and some hard work and commitment, but we have a playing group and a coaching staff that we believe is capable of that.
“It’s a whole new beginning for the club, and the way the new personnel have fitted into that is really pleasing.”
Price nominated former Warrington prop Mike Cooper, former South Sydney centre Dylan Farrell, Melbourne premiership player Gareth Widdop and Sam Williams, who has moved up from Canberra, as among the recruits who have impressed him in the pre-season.
After playing alongside Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater at the Melbourne Storm, Widdop will be asked to reinvigorate a Dragons attack that spluttered through much of 2013.
Price says from what he has seen in the pre-season, England pivot Widdop is set to take his game to a new level.
“He wants to get to that,” Price said.
“And the signs are there that he is ready to evolve his game.
“He is so meticulous and demands quality in everything that he does.
“He is still young but he brings a great calmness to his game.
“He wants to be a leader. He wants to be a senior player at our football club, and he is doing everything he can to get there.”