McGregor ready to step up, says Roach: PHOTOS

Dragons interim coach Paul McGregor at training in Wollongong. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Dragons interim coach Paul McGregor at training in Wollongong. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

RUGBY LEAGUE

Among the rag-tag bunch of part-time footballers and full-time professionals stood Paul McGregor addressing them one last time.

Thanking each and every one of them - by his count 50-plus who he had called his player at some stage - for contributing to the Illawarra Cutters in season 2013.

There was no exaggeration either in the number, McGregor had been forced to use more than 50 players just so his semi-professional NSW Cup side could make it through a football season.

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McGregor struggled to get his head around it, often seeing his halfback and hooker for the first time all week on a Friday night and expecting them to run his team like clockwork the next afternoon. It's the lay of the land for any NSW Cup coach.

Somewhat reluctantly, McGregor agreed to leave all that behind him when the job as Steve Price's understudy came calling.

The Mercury was told he was even more reluctant to be seen as jockeying for position should Price's job ever pop up. It was the last thing he wanted to be perceived to be doing.

So when Peter Doust finally cut the cord on Price's 2½-year tenure at the top, McGregor's dream of a first NRL head coaching gig with the only club he ever knew might have been anything but.

"The sad thing about all of this is Steve Price would be a great mate of his," said league legend and Mercury columnist Steve Roach, who spent time with McGregor in NSW camp last week.

"As I said to 'Mary' the other day: 'if you get the opportunity and this is really what you want to do, you've got to do it'."

Added McGregor in a statement on Monday morning: "The board wanted the change to be as simple as possible for the players and for their sake I agreed.

"This is a difficult situation for me, Steve Price is a good friend of mine and we have worked closely together and I would have liked us to work through these tough times as one.

"This change will be a new challenge for the players to face but we have a good football team and good group of young men."

If Dragons fans are perhaps dreaming of a back to the future scenario with Price's predecessor in Wayne Bennett, McGregor's return is more jaw dropping.

At the crossroads when the Wayne Bennett era dawned on the Red V in 2009, McGregor took his knocks and went back to the Illawarra Coal League. He was part of Nathan Brown's support staff at the Dragons prior to that, but went all the way back to square one.

He led Wests to three straight premierships between 2009-11, a stepping stone for what would follow in the next two years with the Cutters, whom he led to the finals in their first year.

Dragons interim coach Paul McGregor first day on the job. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Dragons interim coach Paul McGregor first day on the job. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

"He's very pedantic and he's very thorough in everything he does," said close friend and former Dragon Reece Simmonds, who joined McGregor at Wests before taking over the reins in 2012.

"He never leaves anything to chance ... from everything he does in life. He's very methodical and always demands the best out of his players, his staff and himself and that rubs off on his players."

Now arguably the most pressurised job in the NRL has fallen on McGregor's shoulders - at least for the remainder of the season - and it's one many think he's capable of handling on a more permanent basis.

"I wish Saints will say 'You're our man'," Roach said of the Dragons's search for a long-term option.

"He's ready."

New Dragons coach Paul McGregor at the season’s first training session in January.  Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

New Dragons coach Paul McGregor at the season’s first training session in January. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

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