Dragons at bottom of a Big Red V
Short-lived: The Dragons achieved their goal of winning the premiership in 2010 but may have sold their future short in the process. Photo: Andy Zakeli
Just two years ago St George Illawarra were basking in premiership glory and talking about becoming the first club in NRL history to win back-to-back grand finals.
Now they are at the bottom of the competition ladder, and winning the wooden spoon seems a far greater possibility than another premiership.
After back-to-back losses this season, there is renewed speculation about the future of coach Steve Price, concern about the predictability of their attack and frustration that the only big name the Dragons appear able to sign is a player sacked by another club over his off-field behaviour.
It is a dramatic fall for a club used to being premiership contenders every year and one that has the St George Illawarra faithful wondering how they came to be in this position.
The answer is that the Dragons – and everyone associated with them – wanted to win a premiership so badly they didn't worry about the future.
Wayne Bennett was hired on big bucks to achieve that goal, and after taking St George Illawarra to the 2009 minor premiership in his initial season, a year later he oversaw the first grand final win by a team wearing the famous Red V since 1979.
The Steelers had never won a premiership, and after a decade of the joint venture being tagged "underachievers", the triumph over Sydney Roosters united St George and Illawarra.
But the cost of that success is now being realised as the Dragons face up to another long season ahead.
To blame Bennett is unfair as he was signed to do a job, and he delivered, but his recruitment decisions weren't aligned to the club's long-term interests.
Before he'd even officially taken charge, Bennett advised Josh Morris to accept a more lucrative offer from the Bulldogs, allowed Jason Ryles and Rangi Chase to move to Super League and declined an opportunity to sign former St George Illawarra captain Trent Barrett from Wigan.
After Bennett's first season, then Blues prop Justin Poore, New Zealand international Chase Stanley and 2009 NYC player of the year Beau Henry were also gone to rival clubs.
In their places, the six- time Broncos premiership-winning coach bought Darius Boyd from Brisbane on a deal that enabled him to follow Bennett to Newcastle, and signed Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan, Michael Weyman, Nathan Fien and Luke Priddis.
Those players helped give the Dragons a harder edge that is credited with securing them the 2010 premiership trophy after years of repeatedly failing to fulfil the hopes of passionate fans in the finals.
However, only an ageing Weyman and Fien remain, while Mark Gasnier, Dean Young and Ben Hornby have retired since Bennett's departure at the end of the 2011 season.
After finishing ninth last year, St George Illawarra are now in danger of missing the finals in consecutive seasons for the first time since the joint venture was formed in 1999.
Prior to Bennett taking over, they made the play-offs in four of the previous five seasons under Nathan Brown, and played an entertaining brand of football with a team dominated by local juniors.
But after falling short of an elusive grand final with a team widely considered the best in the NRL, the Dragons became desperate for success, and are now paying the price.