RUGBY LEAGUE - DRAGONS
St George Illawarra’s top priority must be ensure history does not repeat – again.
Paul McGregor continues his remarkable rise from three-time Illawarra premiership coach with Wests, to Illawarra Cutters and Dragons assistant coach.
Now he sits in the hot seat in a caretaker role, with enough time to show his credentials as an NRL coach.
Picking up the pieces of St George Illawarra’s failures so far this year, there’s lessons to be learned in the coaching careers of Steve Price and Nathan Brown.
Price will forever be remembered as a product and part victim of the club’s system, trying to forge a career in the shadow of Wayne Bennett – the man who brought an end to their premiership drought.
Brown is highly regarded in the Super League in England, hardened after the years of hard knocks and near misses since his appointment in 2003 at the age of just 29.
Aside from being a good bloke and Illawarra rugby league great, McGregor’s future as a coach must not be damaged by what happens between now and September.
Late on Sunday, McGregor – on Laurie Daley’s NSW staff for the State of Origin opener on Wednesday – took a flight from Brisbane back to Sydney to start the preparations for his time in charge.
‘‘He told me [Sunday] night what was happening and he needed to get away. It’s a great opportunity for him,’’ Daley said at the Blues’s team hotel on Monday.
‘‘He was torn because Steve Price is a great mate of his.
‘‘He’d spoken to Steve and was torn between taking the job and feeling he’d be able to add something to the team.
‘‘But when I spoke to him I said he should grab it with two hands as these opportunities don’t come around too often.’’
Daley is, of course, correct. There are few chances given in the cutthroat world of NRL coaching.
But consider other examples around the world and the caretaker role can also have a detrimental impact on career prospects.
English Premier League club Tottenham appointed Tim Sherwood to replace Andre Villas-Boas mid-season, then axed him after they missed out on a Champions League place.
Brad Arthur has shown what a coach without previous experience in the NRL top job can do.
He had just six games in charge of Parramatta in 2012, winning just two after replacing New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney.
But when Ricky Stuart struggled to turn the club around and then jumped ship to Canberra, Arthur has now turned the Eels into an NRL finals contender.
McGregor has 14 games to prove to the St George Illawarra board – and the fan base – he should be appointed long term.
In the meantime, the club will start the process of identifying candidates, with Bennett – whose place in Newcastle is in doubt after Nathan Tinkler handed back Knights ownership – at the top of the list.
Price’s time in charge was difficult.
He inherited a roster geared for short-term success with Bennett in charge and it took two years to begin the process of renewal, after Price had the recruitment side of the job taken away from him so he could focus on coaching.
Last year the Dragons were hampered by the lack of depth in their halves, this season they’ve overcompensated - most recently by signing Benji Marshall.
They now have five halfback options, but a dearth of size in their pack, leading to the chase to secure Canberra’s Tom Learoyd-Lahrs before the June 30 transfer deadline.
However, Price never really made the effort to win over the supporters, almost seldom talking publicly outside of a post-game press conference in the first year of his tenure.
McGregor is credited with helping to reshape their attack this year, but the season has since gone pear-shaped.
Five years ago, McGregor was on the NRL scrap heap when he was cast aside as part of Bennett’s clean out of the club.
His comeback is a stunning rugby league redemption story, which must not be ruined by St George Illawarra’s desire to find a quick fix.