Paul McGregor has what it takes: Trent Merrin

Wayne Bennett runs a Knights training session. He leaves the club in eight weeks. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL
Wayne Bennett runs a Knights training session. He leaves the club in eight weeks. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Injured Dragons forward Trent Merrin compares Paul McGregor to 2010 premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett, believing he has what it takes to be a long-term success at the NRL club.

Bennett is negotiating a multi-million dollar return to Wollongong next year after he had announced that he would leave Newcastle at season's end.

While Merrin would welcome Bennett's return, he also said McGregor - who replaced Steve Price mid-season - possessed the qualities needed to make the club a premiership force.

"Mary just expects perfection and that's exactly what he gets out of every player. I can see some real comparisons between him and Wayne in the way they manage their players," Merrin said.

"He's someone you can approach and talk to and I think that's when you get the best out of your players, when you become more than the coach you become a mate and someone special like that.

"It's a good trait to have and all the boys buy into it.

"You can see it in the way we've bounced back from a bit of a horror start to the season ... a lot of credit goes to Mary."

It's left Merrin in a "win-win" situation provided either Bennett or McGregor are appointed next season.

However, the Dragons job has previously been linked to former Raiders and Cowboys coach Neil Henry.

A late swoop from the Gold Coast Titans appears to be the only thing stopping Bennett from returning to St George Illawarra.

Bennett's return casts doubt over McGregor's future.

The Dragons won four of their last five matches under McGregor after they were written off as wooden spoon contenders six weeks ago.

The interim rookie coach could mount a more compelling case for the top job if his side can upset competition leaders Manly at Kogarah on Monday.

Merrin - a part of the Dragons 2010 premiership-winning team under Bennett - said the Dragons' performances under McGregor have provided plenty of food for thought as the board looks to decide who should take the club forward.

"I get asked the question about Wayne coming back and it's a hard question to answer now because Mary's such a great coach," Merrin said.

"It'd be great to get Wayne back here but I've got total faith in Mary and everything that's going on at the moment. It's a win-win situation."

A Bennett return would follow a horror season in Newcastle which included a spinal injury suffered by Alex McKinnon.

The injury shocked the rugby league world but few took it harder than Bennett who said he viewed McKinnon as a son.

That reaction came as no surprise to Merrin, a close friend of McKinnon's, who experienced the special bond Bennett creates with his players first-hand.

"It doesn't surprise me at all. That's how close he gets to us as players," Merrin said.

"He's more than a coach.

"People outside the game see him as just a coach but he gets the best out of players because he becomes a mate and he becomes someone you look up to and someone you can call on in tough times.

"He's a father figure and I was so blessed to come into grade with him being my coach and to be blooded into first grade by such a special person," Merrin said.

The NRL will pay tribute to McKinnon with this weekend's 'Rise for Alex' round.

Merrin confirmed he would be a reluctant spectator after he suffered a shoulder injury playing for the Blues during their loss to the Maroons in Origin III.

"I'm close to Alex and with everything that's happened having to miss out on the game that's for him is a bummer but I'll be there in spirit," he said.

"It's inspirational just to see where he's come from and the way he's holding himself.

"He gives nothing but smiles and nothing but inspiration to me as a person and as a player."