McGregor's appointment a nod to Steeler heritage

Caretaker coach Paul McGregor keeps an eye on his players at training. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Caretaker coach Paul McGregor keeps an eye on his players at training. Picture: GETTY IMAGES


Paul McGregor's appointment as Dragons coach isn't just good news for a loyal clubman for 20 years but an acknowledgement of the "Illawarra" half of the merger.

Plenty of Steelers fans remain disillusioned by the Dragons partnership, with too much St George and an after-thought to Illawarra.

Think the St George jumper, the Red V marketing push, the string of outside Illawarra coaches (David Waite, Wayne Bennett, Nathan Brown, Steve Price) to playing just four games a season at WIN Stadium.

Well before the Illawarra Steelers were forced to sell half of their half-share of the club to WIN Corporation, there's been barely lip service paid to the Illawarra fans.

St George fans aren't doing much better with Peter Doust's push to take the games to soulless Homebush but at least the appointment of McGregor is recognition of what the region can produce.

Twenty years ago, McGregor was one of the most exciting backs in rugby league, gliding past defenders with an amazing step and setting up his teammates with a trademark one-handed off-load.

McGregor played in the Steelers's glory days; he represented Australia and NSW when the Blues used to win Origin series.

Never the greatest trainer in his early days, McGregor got by on sheer natural talent.

The old Carlton League was no match for his in-and-away shimmy and his partnership with Brett Rodwell is still the best centre pairing St George or Illawarra have had in the past two decades.

Throw in Rod Wishart on the wing, David Riolo at fullback and Johnny Simon at halfback and that's enough to send every Steelers fan scurrying to the library for their favourite videos.

The laconic McGregor would have been lucky to have turned a beep test on - let alone set a respectable mark - but once his playing days were done he made his mark as a trainer and conditioner.

He wasn't a favourite of Bennett but worked his way through the coaching ranks from Thursday nights at Sid Parrish Park at Wests to the Illawarra Cutters to now the Dragons.

Three successive premierships with the Red Devils in the Illawarra competition confirmed his reputation as a young coach on the rise and the positive reviews continued during his time at the Cutters.

On the media front, McGregor is respectful and honest. He even returns calls - a bonus in an era when some NRL clubs treat the press with contempt.

Last week Fox Sports showed McGregor also has a competitive streak with an insight into his on-field duties as Dragons runner.

The language wasn't family friendly but with the Dragons belted by Parramatta, McGregor let it be known that it was unacceptable. They were embarrassing and McGregor let his clubmates have it with both barrels.

The Eels fiasco was the last straw for Price, who was on the back foot as coach from the day he was anointed by Bennett.

Some guys just don't look like an NRL coach and the insular Price was one. The players never bought into his strategies, the fans wondered if there were any and eventually Doust and the board said enough was enough.

The dog-eat-dog world of NRL coaching meant McGregor's good mate is gone and now "Mary" has three months to prove his worth.

The Dragons board are circling for a higher profile coach, with a list longer than the candidates lining up for the federal senate on election day.

McGregor's tenure starts on Monday night against the Rabbitohs and he needs his players to do their bit. The fans will support him and, if the wins come, the Dragons board will be left with no option than to confirm McGregor as coach.

That would be good news for every Illawarra fan.


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