ST GEORGE Illawarra recruit Nene MacDonald will spend the next three seasons with the Dragons but – having been part of the Gold Coast’s stunning resurgence in 2016 – he’s confident it won’t take that long for his new club to see finals action.
Off-field dramas and the Daly Cherry-Evans contract saga cast a dark shadow on the Titans preparations for the 2016 season. Cherry-Evans’ back-flip left the banking on a pair of rookie halves to steer them to the finals for the first time since 2010.
When one of those, Kane Elgey, did his ACL in preseason it saw the Titans almost universally tipped to pick up the wooden spoon.
Those predictions proved well off the mark with the Titans making the finals for the first-time in six years, unearthing one of the best young halves in the game in Ash Taylor and landing the prized signature of superstar Jarryd Hayne whose arrival saw Cbus Super Stadium packed to the rafters.
The Dragons find themselves in a strikingly similar position after a disappointing 2016 campaign in which they missed the finals for the fourth time in five years. With Benji Marshall and Mitch Rein having moved on, they’ll be banking on a new spine featuring rookie half Drew Hutchison to steer them back to the finals.
It’s seen many observers pencil them in for a bottom four finish next season but MacDonald is confident the Dragons can mirror the meteoric rise of his former club.
“Up on the Gold Coast everyone was writing us off at the start of the year,” MacDonald said.
“We were favourites for the wooden spoon, and we proved everyone wrong and made the top eight.
“We all came together and it was probably the closest I’ve been with a team of boys.
“We all knew we had it in us and we had the team to do it but it gives you that little bit of extra fire.
“When we heard all these people saying we were favourites for the wooden spoon the boys really lifted and found another gear.
“We’d gone six years without finals so making it this year was amazing for the boys and the community. Hopefully we can do that here at the Dragons and the boys find that same fire.”
The Titans surge up the ladder proved beneficial for the 22-year-old PNG International who scored seven tries in seven games through the middle part of the season to finish the year with 10 four-pointers and in career-best form.
He also managed 23 games, more than double his previous best single-season tally, something he puts down to a more professional approach off the paddock.
“I think it was probably just a bit of maturity,” MacDonald said.
“For me, I came into first grade when I was pretty young and I was loving it but I didn’t really know all the stepping stones you need to take to get to that next level. That’s what I had to learn.
“When you get your first crack at NRL level it’s really a dream come true.
“I was coming in and having a good time but if you want to stay there you need to focus and really rip in.
“Talent won’t save you these days. There’s a lot of boys out there playing NRL who mightn’t be the most talented players but when it comes to training and preparation they’re ripping and giving it 100 per cent.
“That was the difference for me this year. I knew it was time to step up and come game-time it was time to lift.”