Critical time for McGregor: game on

Dan Hunt, left, is one of several players who appear to be on borrowed time at the St George Illawarra Dragons. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Dan Hunt, left, is one of several players who appear to be on borrowed time at the St George Illawarra Dragons. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI


Away from the action, there are indications Paul McGregor is going to be bold with his blueprint for the future.

The weeks and months ahead will be  critical  in his coaching future to set up a successful framework for the next three years.

In recent days, the drums have been beating louder about a cleanout of personnel at the club.

Dan Hunt – once seemingly destined for State of Origin before the 2010 Achilles heel injury which robbed him of playing in a premiership – is the latest man likely to be looking for a new club next year.

The murmurs of discontent about Trent Merrin and Brett Morris at the Dragons continue.

While Mitch Rein’s form has been reasonably consistent recently, there’s also been discussion about looking for another hooker, given Craig Garvey’s off-field troubles.

The rap on Rein has always been he can be mistake-prone when asked to take on too many minutes.

Severely restricted by the amount of salary cap room to work with, McGregor has already promised to make the difficult decisions.

‘‘The place needs stability and needs a person in that position who can forward plan the football department,’’ McGregor told Fairfax Media after his appointment last week.

‘‘Coaching is a strong business and to do that you have to forward plan.

‘‘In the coming weeks I’ll have the opportunity to have an in-depth look at what’s needed to be done and make some tough decisions. I’m hard but fair and very honest. If that means we don’t have the same playing roster or coaching staff, time will tell.’’

Former Helensburgh coach Ben Haran, working in recruitment and the high performance unit, is an astute operator and an asset to McGregor.

Of course, St George Illawarra need to add size to the pack, which is why Sam Kasiano and Willie Mason are both being courted to come to Wollongong next year.

But who will be sacrificed to make it happen?

Morris is the best finisher in the game. Merrin carries a workload few others in the NRL can consistently match.

Hunt has never had the same impact since suffering the unlucky injury in the warm-up to a game at WIN Stadium.

Keeping Joel Thompson would be a huge boost for McGregor, when a couple of months ago it seemed certain he was headed back to Canberra.

The Dragons went from having depth and quality at hooker, which resulted in North Queensland signing the injury-hampered Cameron King, to this year having too many halfbacks, which resulted in offloading Sam Williams mid-season.

So is it worth adding the extra size of 23-year-old Kiwi international Kasiano, if it means a trade deal with the Bulldogs so Morris can reunite with his brother Josh?

This column isn’t professing to come up with answers, but it shows the type of decision-making McGregor faces to shape the squad.

It’s also a chance for him to assert the type of authority Steve Price struggled to, after the recruitment process was taken out of his hands.

Having been Price’s right-hand man, McGregor will be very conscious of not making similar mistakes.


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