Time for Dragons to act on McGregor’s coaching future

Long run: Paul McGregor takes to a fitness drill with the players at WIN Stadium this year. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Long run: Paul McGregor takes to a fitness drill with the players at WIN Stadium this year. Picture: Sylvia Liber

BACK him or sack him. 

The time has come for St George Illawarra to make a decision on coach Paul McGregor’s future. 

It has delved into the farcical to have a coach, with his future in question, in public disagreement with club officials about strategic direction and the best position for one of their marquee players.

It’s little wonder Josh Dugan is eyeing close to $1 million per season to remain at fullback, given the truckloads of cash being dumped at players’ front doors right now. 

But Dragons recruitment man Ian Millward has publicly stated, in an in-house video, the deal is on the table for him to move to centre. 

And he has a point, given Dugan’s injury history, lack of genuine ball-playing and the NRL salary cap pressure.

So now Aaron Woods, James Tedesco and Kieran Foran are on the move, the stakes are raised on the open market.

Given what we know now, do the Dragons move on from pursuing Dugan at the asking price?

Is it a more sound strategy to up their offer for Widdop, so he and Ben Hunt could be next year’s halves combination? 

Dugan’s recent comments appear to have softened towards staying at the Dragons, even if he still wants to be fullback. 

The crux of the issue is whether McGregor has a future or not. 

If he does, surely he should have a say in strategic direction, given playing position is a major factor in the Dugan offer. 

At the start of the season, some considered him a dead man walking and a significant section of the fan base wanted change.

But then Mary went and transformed the Dragons into the competition front-runners, which surely earns him a contract extension.

On social media, fans laughed off the threat of a Newcastle or Wests Tigers coming for Dugan. 

But Knights coach Nathan Brown is already headlong into a rebuild and new Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has a clean slate and an open cheque book. 

Widdop had been linked to a return to Melbourne, now his former teammate Cooper Cronk is poised to join a Sydney club. The Dragons fortunes this year is a perfect example of how quickly the dynamic changes in the NRL.

The St George Illawarra squad is otherwise more settled than at any time in the post-Wayne Bennett era, with Russell Packer, premiership play Jason Nightingale and the hugely improved Tim Lafai coming off contract.

Of course, St George Illawarra could still fall off a cliff after their 6-1 start to the season.

The Gold Coast have done it before, though recent history suggests finals beckon and a top four place would be in reach, if they can reach the representative round bye with a record of at least 8-3. 

So if the Dragons can announce the reappointment of Steve Price midway through the 2013 Anzac Day game – because the knew of an impending media report revealing the deal – then surely the time has come for Mary to have a mandate.

McGregor may have had mixed results with the Dragons, but they know him, they know what he’s about and has shown his ability to adapt and succeed.

There are few reasonable alternatives out there.  

Perhaps Geoff Toovey is the obvious one, given  Cleary is now charged with cleaning up the mess at the Wests Tigers. Dragons fans have always had difficulty believing in their own, because of finals failures past, amplified by Bennett leading them to the 2010 crown. 

Perhaps if McGregor had lifted the 1999 premiership trophy,which ended in the famous penalty try grand final loss to Melbourne, then the culture would be different. 

But McGregor should have the chance to write a new successful chapter, with security – and some say in the recruitment process.

The longer this drags on, the more it undermines what is shaping as a truly remarkable campaign. 

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