Wayne's second coming not foolproof for Dragons

Wayne Bennett, left, and Darius Boyd, right. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Wayne Bennett, left, and Darius Boyd, right. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

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If Wollongong is to become Wayne's world again, have the Dragons learned the lessons of the past?

Paul McGregor could become the long-term beneficiary of Bennett being back at the Dragons, but the club will need to be better in regard to forward planning and the recruitment problems that cruelled Steve Price's time at the helm.

To announce Bennett's re-signing, expected later this month, St George Illawarra officials are very conscious of the club's future.

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At the prospect of signing a three-year deal, Bennett will be 67 by the time his contract finishes.

At that stage he may be in a position to continue, but it's quite likely - especially if he can win another title in three years, just as he did in his first stint with the Dragons - he will retire.

Using the ill-fated AFL transition between Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley at Collingwood may not be the best example, but McGregor is expected to stay on as an assistant with a view to succeeding Bennett.

Steve Price and Paul McGregor at a training session at Wollongong University.  Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

Steve Price and Paul McGregor at a training session at Wollongong University. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

As another loose AFL comparison, Paul Roos took over at Melbourne to rebuild a club branded a basket case, on the proviso he won't be there forever and a long-term successor would need to be found.

While the Dragons are suddenly back in the finals hunt with McGregor at the helm, they would massively increase recruiting and commercial appeal by Bennett's return.

But they should be wary of quick fixes.

The complications will come, not least by the expectation Darius Boyd would be back in the Red V as part of the Bennett deal, when the Dragons already have no less than three quality fullback options in Josh Dugan, Gerard Beale and Adam Quinlan.

Former St George Illawarra coach Wayne Bennett and skipper Ben Hornby with the NRL trophy the club won in October 2010.

Former St George Illawarra coach Wayne Bennett and skipper Ben Hornby with the NRL trophy the club won in October 2010.

This is where the pitfalls of another short-term, premiership-or-bust mentality can harm the strategic planning for a club.

Surely McGregor, a hero of Illawarra rugby league and widely regarded after serving his time with Wests in the now Coal League and the Cutters in the NSW Cup, deserves respect as a stable, long-term option.

So why did a cash-strapped club that has gone cap in hand for assistance from the NRL make a multimillion-dollar play at getting Bennett back?

Ultimately the answer, in part at least, is about Wollongong rather than Sydney for once.

As written about by Game On since April, there's a high-stakes battle for the hearts and minds of the public between two codes.

Football Federation Australia are assessing the feasibility of the region returning to the elite national competition - at least in some form - a decade after the demise of the Wolves in the NSL.

In doing so, they're bringing the A-League All Stars to Wollongong for a six-day camp.

The Wolves - who moved home games to WIN Stadium this year, at a time when the Dragons have cut Wollongong home games to four - have also made it through to the FFA Cup round of 32, where they will meet Central Coast Mariners on August 20.

Wollongong is also in line to host an Asian Cup squad as they prepare for the tournament in Australia next year.

The Dragons's strategic move to take more games to major Sydney stadiums is designed to help ease the financial burden, at the cost of cutting the game day in its own heartland.

But nothing keeps the faithful committed and attracts new followers - within business and community - more than the return of the messiah.

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