Veteran Jason Nightingale believes St George Illawarra have assembled their best team since 2010 after the arrival of high-profile stars James Graham and Ben Hunt.
This week marks the duo’s first week of training at the club and their arrival has been met with plenty of hype about the team’s top-four chances. The Kiwi international is the last of the Dragons 2010 premiership side remaining at the club and he’s been impressed by what he has seen.
“In the last six or seven years, it’s the best squad we’ve put together since the premiership year,” Nightingale said.
“So I’m very excited for that and that’s been a credit to a lot of people coming through the system and also the administration and staff to be able to put together a squad like we have this year.
“There’s plenty of cause for optimism but we have to do a lot of hard work, especially at this time of year, to make sure that does come to fruition.”
The 31-year-old is confident the team’s new recruits will pass on their knowledge to a promising group of young players that includes Luciano Leilua and Matt Dufty.
“It really does balance the squad nicely, having the older guys come in, with so much experience and so much to teach the young forwards and young backs. It does balance the squad nicely to have that combination of youth and age to be able to mature them and get them through and hopefully see them adding to our squad and playing first grade.”
Having played 225 English Super League matches and 135 NRL games for Canterbury, including two grand final defeats, Graham has plenty of experience to draw on and he’s looking forward to a new challenge with a new group of teammates.
”I think it’s clear to see it’s an exciting group,” He said. “There’s a lot of young players with some experience, a good set of lads so far.
“I know that they all train really hard, so I’m looking forward to continuing that and seeing what the new season brings.
“I’ve come here to do my best and try to play the best I can, I don’t know if re-energise is the right phrase, but I’m just going to come here and try and do my best and get on board with this club and the systems here and try and play the best possible rugby league I can
Like Nightingale, Graham is refusing to promise St George Illawarra fans a premiership, but he has been pleased by what he’s seen throughout his first week at the club.
“There’s a lot of things that have got to fall into place for that, but I think the foundations are definitely here.
“I don’t think that’s something that just happens, you’ve got to build to that. But I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Despite playing in the front row, Graham spent much of his time at the Bulldogs acting as an additional playmaker in Des Hasler’s unique attacking system. It’s a role he’s happy to continue to play if he’s asked to do so by the Dragons coaches.
“I’m looking to fit into this team wherever the coaching staff see fit. If they want me to play with the ball, I will, if they want me to tuck it up the jumper, I will too.
“The plan might differ from week to week, that’s how it generally does within most clubs. I imagine it will be no different here, I’ve just got to fit into the team and do my role to the best of my ability.”