Dragons trump card to juggle representative demands

ACE: Dragons head of performance Nathan Pickworth (left) will accompany Gareth Widdop and James Graham on next week's Denver Test trip. Picture: Sylvia Liber

ACE: Dragons head of performance Nathan Pickworth (left) will accompany Gareth Widdop and James Graham on next week's Denver Test trip. Picture: Sylvia Liber

HE played an integral role in the Dragons' flying start to the season and St George Illawarra’s head of performance Nathan Pickworth is shaping as the ace in the club’s deck as it looks to navigate a demanding rep season.

As expected, skipper Gareth Widdop and James Graham were both named in the England squad for next Sunday’s Test clash with New Zealand in Denver.

The Dragons will dig into their own pocket to send Pickworth along to manage the marquee pair’s recovery and any injuries should they arise.

The former elite swimmer will also attend a performance seminar in Salt Lake City and visit the Denver Broncos NFL franchise as part of the trip.

It will give coach Paul McGregor valuable time to plan for what’s shaping as the most logistically difficult week of the season ahead of the Dragons round 16 match with Parramatta.

The Thursday-night clash will come just four days after the Denver Test and Origin II, with as many as 10 players likely to be in action over the stand-alone rep weekend.

In addition the club’s Test and Origin contingent, Tim Lafai and Leeson Ah Mau will almost certainly be in action for Samoa, while only a late Queensland call-up will prevent Nene Macdonald turning our for Papua New Guinea.

McGregor has repeatedly said he won’t hesitate to rest stars, the Dragons lofty position on the ladder adding to that luxury, and Graham said Pickworth’s trip brings valuable peace of mind.

“It means a lot that the club care enough to do that,” Graham said.

“That’s the message I’m getting out of it. The club cares enough about its players that they’re willing to go that length, and that expense, to make sure the players involved in that Test are looked after to the best possible care that can be given.

“Once that game’s been played he’ll have a better indication to communicate to the coach and the rest of the staff where the players who play in that game are at.

“That’s sport these days. He’ll look after us well and that’s part of his job.” 

While the next 14 days are shaping as some of the most challenging of the season, Graham said his side won’t fall into the trap of looking past Manly at WIN Stadium on Saturday.

The Sea Eagles have been beset with on and off-field drama this season and were scratching to name the mandatory 23-man squad on Tuesday. 

It looks very much a mismatch but Graham said games, particularly at this point of the season, aren’t won on paper.

“As far as I’m concerned I’m not on that plane yet,” Graham said.

“The concentration is on this game on Saturday and that’s where all the head space is at the moment.

“You’d be naive to not think about being on a flight Sunday morning or whenever, but my focus is on getting the two points on Saturday.

“I’m not thinking further down the track about other games. If you go into a game with that sort of attitude or mentality, you see it time and time again, it doesn’t work well for that team or that player.

“We understand the situation that we’re in and we just want to win because that’s what our aims are.

“We appreciate where we’re at and the motivating factors going into this game is here and where our [team] aims and goals are.”

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