ST GEORGE Illawarra director Sean O’Connor believes the Dragons should back Paul McGregor to deliver the long-term vision for the club, rather than pursue a multimillion-dollar deal with Wayne Bennett.
While Dragons chief executive Peter Doust is expected to meet with Bennett in coming days, O’Connor’s comments show that club support for the 2010 premiership winner is not unanimous.
O’Connor was loathe to criticise Bennett but said McGregor, at 46 and a Steelers and Dragons great, is best for the role in the long term.
‘‘I’d really support Paul McGregor to coach the St George Illawarra Dragons and to lead us into a new and exciting era,’’ O’Connor said.
‘‘Mary’s been coaching for a number of years now, he’s been involved as a coach and a trainer at the Dragons, so he’s an experienced coach who’s had a lot of success wherever he’s been.
‘‘We all know what he did as a player, he’s ticked all the boxes.
‘‘He was our inaugural captain, he led us to the 1999 grand final and he’s also played for NSW and Australia.
‘‘He’s got enormous support in the Illawarra region, he’s got the support of the current playing group and the respect of the current playing group.’’
Fairfax Media was told weeks ago of contact between Gold Coast representatives and Bennett but there had not been any progress after he was made aware of interest from the Broncos. Officials from both clubs denied there had been any approach to Bennett.
Cartwright has two more years to run on his contract, meaning the Titans would have to pay him up to $1 million if they were to sack him. Some believe that money and the $1 million per season cost of hiring Bennett would be offset by the boost to the club’s profile he would ensure in the battle for corporate and public support with AFL’s Gold Coast Suns franchise.
There are also understood to be sponsors who would sign up with whichever club Bennett coaches, including St George Illawarra.
However, the cash-strapped Dragons have had to borrow more than $2 million from the NRL.
The Steelers cannot contribute as much to the joint venture due to interest payments to WIN Corporation owner Bruce Gordon that were triggered after St George Illawarra breached a condition of a $6.3million loan to play six premiership games in Wollongong by moving two games to bigger venues in a bid to lift revenue.
McGregor’s supporters say he would come a lot cheaper than Bennett, is a better long-term option and has a strong connection with fans and the local community after coaching Wests Devils to three consecutive premierships in the Illawarra Coal League before taking charge of Illawarra Cutters NSW Cup team two years ago.
O’Connor, one of four Illawarra directors on the eight-man St George-Illawarra board, urged the club to look beyond the next three years and appoint McGregor to lead the club long into the future.
‘‘I think it’s important to look to the future and I think it’s important we do have a coach who can be long term,’’ O’Connor said.
‘‘I think for the stability of the Dragons and the consistency of the Dragons, we need a coach who can commit long term and nurture that production line of juniors.’’
He said McGregor had a passion for the club.
‘‘We have a large talent pool of juniors and to maximise that talent pool and to have NRL players coming through you need a long-term coach.
‘‘I can easily see, having been involved with him at theCutters, that he could be the next supercoach.’’