St George Dragons -2010 NRL Premieres
VICTORIOUS Dragons players were greeted by more than 2500 fans at Wollongong Entertainment Centre today as the club’s NRL premiership celebrations continued.
After getting a couple of hours sleep on a concrete floor underneath WIN Jubilee Stadium at Kogarah, the players boarded an open-deck bus and headed south where they were cheered by long-suffering supporters who had waited 31 years for the title.
Coach Wayne Bennett was given the loudest cheer on stage, followed by Dean Young, the tough hooker who was one of three Dragons named in the Australian train-on squad today.
The Kangaroos news was broken to him by proud father Craig Young, the last player who captained the premiership-winning Dragons in 1979.
Young said it had been an unbelievable 24 hours and one of the highlights was seeing the 15,000-strong crowd who braved the rain to witness the side hoist the trophy back at Kogarah Oval.
Wayne Bennett was so happy he almost convinced the other side of his mouth to join in the smile.
And this is strictly off the record, but Bennett might have even dropped a small tear at the performance of his Dragons, who won their first premiership in 31 years, and who shook off the most unwanted tag in sport.
St George Illawarra are chokers no more.
After no small amount of convincing, Bennett finally revealed how deeply it truly did affect the club – and how he turned it around.
Bennett said his players were suffering deeply from their reputation as premiership chokers after bailing out of the 2005 and 2006 competitions a week before the grand finals when they had the strongest roster in the competition.
He immediately began a deliberate, calculated ploy to show his players how little the stigma meant to him personally, hoping that, by association, it would lift the shroud.
“These guys have suffered a fair bit of pain here,” Bennett said. “It’s been deep. It was deeper than I thought it was, to the point where they questioned themselves whether they were the problem.
“I assured them they weren’t part of the problem but they were part of the solution.”
And while it was a nice line, Bennett was aware that he could pour all the self-help books he liked down their ears and give them a lifetime of messages that spoke of the best intentions, but unless his players began to believe, the cause was hopeless.
“The first thing was to show that it couldn’t hurt me,” Bennett said. “The criticisms, the negatives.”
“What they said, what they read, they couldn’t hurt me.
“I hoped that gave them confidence and they believed that.”
It saw Bennett get aggressive at press conferences and stonewall interrogators whenever the “choking” label come up. Bennett also knew that wasn’t enough.
“At the same time we also had to win,” he said. “The first thing I recognised was we had to win. it wasn’t about a two or three-year plan. We had to win because if we didn’t I would have been a victim of what had gone on here.
“I made a conscious decision to get our defence right because I knew it was the best way to win football games.”