St George Illawarra have conceded there was some truth to the “chokers” tag and that was their motivation for finally claiming an NRL premiership.
The Dragons lost five grand finals between 1979 and this year’s 32-8 triumph over the Sydney Roosters, while their failures in 2005, 2006 and last year, when they also finished minor premiers, had plenty writing off their ability in big game pressure.
“We knew we failed but it wasn’t from lack of trying or lack of effort or anything like that,” forward Dean Young said.
“Blokes like me and Benny Hornby and Benny Creagh and Coops, we had good opportunity in ’05 and ’06 and certainly last year and to fail and get called chokers your whole life, it’s hard to swallow.
“Our theme for this year was unfinished business and we rode that hard all year.”
And that was because the tag annoyed the players.
“It bothered us,” Young said.
“You look at blokes that win grand finals and blokes that don’t, they play rep footy but they’d just love to win one and now we’ve finally done it, it’s just so rewarding.
“I was so nervous last week (in the preliminary final against the Wests Tigers).
“Speaking to Benny Hornby and Matty Cooper, honestly the day before the game and especially the day of the game we were shitting bricks.
“We got to that game again, you know, and where we’d failed so many times.”
Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward agreed the tag was hard to ignore.
“Everyone said we couldn’t do it, that we were chokers, boring style of footy and then we score 32 points in the grand final and kept them to eight,” he said.
“I can’t really say in the paper how it felt but when you walk down the street and you get the choker tag and there’s choker signs everywhere.”
The wait is finally over for Dragons fans after coach Wayne Bennett added to his six premierships with Brisbane in just his second year at the desperate club.
The St George half of the joint venture have now won 16 titles, while Illawarra and the merged entity get their first after losing the 1999 decider in their first year together.
They earned the victory with a 24-point second half blitz of the Roosters, scoring five tries to two in a convincing victory after being down 6-8 following an uncharacteristically poor first half.
“I was that calm,” Young said.
“Blokes were sitting there, there was no one stressing or panicking.
“I think I feel it more than some of the boys in there because of the failures I’ve had at the club.
“It’s the best feeling ever.”