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The ones who got away: St George Illawarra Dragons

Club loyalty certainly isn’t what it used to be, and now the salary cap, ineffectual contracts and the lure of the dollar means that players change clubs on a regular basis.

Sometimes fans are happy to see a player go – players like Matt Dufty and Corey Norman immediately spring to mind – but losing a top player when they’re in their prime or a prospect with loads of potential is no fun at all, particularly when you see that player lining up for the opposition in the following season.

Take a look at the ones who got away from Parramatta.

In this, the eighth article in the series, I’ll pick a team of the best players who got away from the Dragons since 2000.

The only criteria are that the player named must have made his debut for the Dragons, left the club after 2000, and then played with another NRL club, rather than just retired or headed to obscurity in either the ESL or rugby.

(Details in brackets are the year the player debuted for the Dragons and the number of games played for the club.)

1. Amos Roberts (2000, 65 games)

A gifted player, Roberts left the Dragons in 2004 to join Penrith, and was the NRL’s top try-scorer that year. He was certainly a better wing option than those who replaced him.

2. Jason Saab (2019, seven games)

Could barely get a game in first grade under Paul McGregor, crosses the harbour to save petrol money, and has now scored 32 tries in 40 games for Manly. Another young prospect gone.

3. Euan Aitken (2015, 121 games)

Always a solid performer, but never looking like a centre, Aitken’s game curiously didn’t improve one little bit under former international centre Paul McGregor’s coaching, and was no major loss when he headed to the Warriors in 2021. All we had to do the keep him was show him where Auckland was on the map.

4. Josh Morris (2007, 46 games)

He couldn’t find a permanent spot in the centres with the Dragons so headed to the Dogs in 2009, and went on to become one of the best centres in the NRL era, notching up six Tests for Australia and 15 games for NSW. Should’ve been a Dragon for life!

5. Brett Morris (2006, 169 games)

Losing one Morris twin is careless, losing both is criminal. Left for the Bulldogs while at the top of his game in 2015. What a player.

6. Daniel Holdsworth (2004, six games)

Not many top-flight halves have begun their careers with the Dragons in the NRL era, and that includes Holdsworth, who left the club in 2006. No loss really.

7. Drew Hutchison (2015, four games)

Another player coach McGregor had no idea what to do with. Looks far better these days in a Roosters jumper than he ever did in reserve grade at the Dragons.

8. Luke Bailey (2000, 119 games)

He was the leader of the pack when he headed to the newly minted Titans in 2007. He was definitely one to hang on to, and a far better front row option than either Justin Poore or Michael Weyman.

9. Damien Cook (2013, two games)

Surely the Dragons could tell from the 30 minutes or so of first grade that Cook played from the bench in 2013 that he would become one of the best hookers in the game within a few years?

Damien Cook takes a run in the NRL grand final

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

10. Brent Kite (2002, 67 games)

Kite may be a little loopy these days, but he was too good a player to let go to Manly in 2005, as confirmed by his 15 Tests and 10 games for NSW. A big mistake to let him go.

11. Luciano Leilua (2016, 43 games)

Yet another player that proved that Paul McGregor’s middle initials were “NFI”. You can’t blame him for leaving for the Tigers in 2020 after struggling to win a spot in the Dragons run-on side.

12. Jacob Host (2016, 51 games)

Host is just one of those hard-working club players, and it was no real loss when he left for the Rabbitohs in 2021, to make room for the likes of Billy Burns.

13. Corey Payne (2005, 47 games)

Another solid forward who wasn’t missed when he left in 2008, and he didn’t do much better at either the Tigers or the Dogs.

Not much for Dragons fans to get too excited about there, with the big exceptions being the Morris boys, Luke Bailey, Luciano Leilua and Brent Kite. The rest either had not yet proved themselves in the top grade, or were just good, solid first graders, rather than stars of the game.

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