Player welfare chief concern for McGregor ahead of busy rep season

TEST STAR: Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop will pull on the England jumper for June's Test clash with New Zealand in Denver. Picture: AAP
TEST STAR: Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop will pull on the England jumper for June's Test clash with New Zealand in Denver. Picture: AAP

DRAGONS coach Paul McGregor says he would never stand in the way of any player representing his country despite player welfare concerns ahead June’s Test clash between England and New Zealand in Denver.

Players from both nations have given vocal support to the match, but clubs, the NRL and the NRL Players’ Association have voiced concerns around insurance provisions, travel and the altitude the match will be played at.

The parties met on Tuesday to discuss the issues with the NZRL who are the official hosts of the RLIF sanctioned match.

McGregor has plenty at stake with key men James Graham and Gareth Widdop certain to turn out for England if fit, while Jason Nightingale is also a likely starter for New Zealand.

The Dragons have a Thursday night game against Parramatta just five days after the June 23 Test but McGregor his decision on whether they back up will come down to player welfare.

“That’s there Origin isn’t it,” McGregor said.

“For international players who aren’t fortunate enough to be a Queenslander or a New South Welshman, that’s there Origin period and they want to play that game.

“My only concern around anything when it comes to rep football is the welfare of the player. If it goes ahead and they get selected, the welfare of my players will be at the forefront of my thoughts.

“If I can make sure we do everything possible to help them out in any way we will. 

“If the boys are healthy and they get selected and they go over to Denver, I’ve got a high performance management [team] who’ll work really hard around how we can best treat those guys.

“As a coach I’ll gauge on the outcome of the game and how everyone pulls up.”

It’s a concern that extends to the State of Origin period, with as many as six players in the selection frame.

Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan and Cam McInnes are in line for Origin debuts while Ben Hunt and Tyson Frizell are incumbents.

McGregor said it’s vital his unbeaten side continue to put wins in the bank to navigate that tough period of the season, and hasn’t ruled out resting players if required. 

“For me it’s important to win games now as it is for every coach,’ McGregor said.

“The more wins you get now, and Melbourne’s been doing it for years, you can rest players at the right time and that’s important to finish strong.

“Representative football does come at an important time of the year, around the halfway mark, and you lose them for six weeks pretty well.

“At the time it’s a disruption but as a player you get a lot out of playing those game and any experience you bring back to club land.

“It’s about the guys who do get selected, if and when, that they have a professional attitude around what they’re there for and what they need to come back to.

“When you’ve got a healthy roster and you’re winning games, when you do get some distractions around rep footy you have that choice to rest guys.”