Dragons' fearless advice

Pain: James Graham and Ben Hunt react after the semi-final loss to South Sydney last year. Picture: AAP Image/Craig Golding.
Pain: James Graham and Ben Hunt react after the semi-final loss to South Sydney last year. Picture: AAP Image/Craig Golding.

One of the arguments raised against the idea of an NRL playoff weekend was it opening the door for a team finishing 10th winning a premiership.

So we went to one man who has come closest to it happening, now Dragons Jersey Flegg coach Willie Talau.

Talau famously scored a try in the 1998 preliminary final, as the Bulldogs came from 16 points down with 11 minutes remaining against Parramatta to make it through to the grand final.

The Dogs had come from ninth in a 10-team finals series, the year the competition reformed at the end of the Super League war.

And while Canterbury ultimately lost the decider, 38-12 to Brisbane after leading by two at half-time, it was arguably the greatest fairytale run in history, winning eight games in a row to be on the biggest stage.

Talau had only made his debut in round 17 that year.

He said it would be almost impossible for a struggling team to finish 10th and win the title simply from the playoff lifeline, adamant you need momentum and consistency in form.

But there's one factor any low-ranked team needs to march through September.

"Be fearless," Talau said.

"We were fearless. Most of us were just young kids without a lot of first grade experience. We'd had a lot of injuries that year, I'd been playing park footy and only got my chance because Paul Mellor and Steve Hughes had been injured.

"That comeback was all a blur, but that's what happens when you're fearless, the momentum carries you. There was a bit of destiny about it.

"Suddenly we're there on grand final against your idols like Steve Renouf. In the end it wasn't to be."

The advice about being fearless could come in handy for St George Illawarra this year, who are attempting to break a habit of late-season slides. Form has always been an inexact science, but the Dragons lost eight of their last 12 games in 2017 to finish ninth.

They they then lost seven of 11 to crash to seventh after leading the competition in round 16 last year, before pulling off a stunning elimination final win over Brisbane and narrowly going down to Souths in the semi-final. Talau is moulding the next generation of Dragons' talent after a stint in the Bulldogs development coaching ranks.

The 20 years and under competition kicks off on March 23, with the Dragons taking on South Sydney at Redfern.

Talau suffered a setback when talented James Coyne, the son of Dragons and Queensland great Mark Coyne, suffered a shoulder dislocation in pre-season.

The squad also features a Steelers bloodline via Tyran Wishart, the son of Rod.