Can St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor save NRL campaign?

Runaway: Reimis Smith is chased by Matt Dufty. Picture: AAP Image/Brendan Esposito
Runaway: Reimis Smith is chased by Matt Dufty. Picture: AAP Image/Brendan Esposito

Right, then. 

So, ah, what now?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison might be a Sharks fan, but he has a bit in common with Dragons coach Paul McGregor right now. 

A Government. An NRL club. And how to save themselves before it’s too late.

Days after another spectacular political meltdown resulted in Malcolm Turnbull’s demise, the fan frustration at St George Illawarra’s late-season slide morphed into full flaming torches and pitchforks reaction at Kogarah. 

Another bitter defeat to the Bulldogs, another sour season wondering how the Red V on the jersey has come to point the direction they’re heading. 

And now Jason Nightingale’s career could come to a premature end, after suffering an elbow injury.

But unlike last year, when Canterbury knocked the Dragons out of the finals equation with a shattering last-round result, this time there are still pieces to be picked up.

Whatever happens next week, St George Illawarra are in the playoffs.

Pressure: Paul McGregor. Picture: AAP Image/Brendan Esposito

Pressure: Paul McGregor. Picture: AAP Image/Brendan Esposito

A loss to the Knights in Newcastle on Saturday afternoon would likely see the Dragons slip to eighth, provided the Warriors beat Canberra in New Zealand and Brisbane outclass the in-turmoil Manly.

Up until the Dogs defeat, there was a lingering sense of hope the Dragons still had a shot to fire in the finals.

Now their cause seems hopeless, especially if Nightingale and Euan Aitken are out injured and Gareth Widdop fails to prove his fitness.

Without Widdop, halfback Ben Hunt is in danger of becoming the club’s new scapegoat, following in the footsteps of Jason Ryles and Trent Barrett. 

Back in January, this column outlined the expectation he would face as the main man.

The problem for McGregor is the decision to demote Dufty now looks like a lack of confidence in what the Dragons are doing, a week after they appeared to turn the corner against the Tigers.

Is there a Hail Mary left in them?

Any selection revolution now can only rely purely on individual talent, they’ve run out of time on the training field to remodel the engine.

Maybe McGregor can take inspiration from the Bulldogs impressive late-season rise.

Of course, the Dogs can play off the leash when they’re not in the premiership picture, while in contrast the Dragons are once again melting in the pressure cooker.

But Dean Pay’s willingness to turn to youth has been a masterstroke, so much so Dogs fans are starting to believe they could be a force next season.

Winger Reimis Smith torched Dufty with electrifying pace on his way to a try-scoring hattrick on Sunday.

Lachlan Lewis has added some direction and unexpected polish to the halves, for a 22-year-old who has played eight games.

Goalkicking second-rower Rhyse Martin, lock Adam Elliott and utility option Jeremy Marshall-King have added extra dimensions to a team once ready to be smacked with the wooden spoon.

So where does that spark come from for the Dragons?

Jai Field to fullback? Or in the halves?

Zac Lomax to the wing or the centres?

Kurt Mann to the centres, if Aitken is injured anyway?

Darren Nicholls to come in if Widdop is still injured?

Keep the faith with Luciano Leilua starting?

Reuben Garrick? Tristan Sailor?

Something! Anything!

Or should it be left up to the fit ones in this hole to dig themselves out?

Morrison has until next year to win an election. 

McGregor has less than two weeks to save the campaign.

Twist and shout: Malcolm Turnbull with Scott Morrison at the footy. Picture: AAP Image/Craig Golding

Twist and shout: Malcolm Turnbull with Scott Morrison at the footy. Picture: AAP Image/Craig Golding