St George Illawarra players have emphatically backed Dragons coach Paul McGregor to lead the team out of its late season form slump.
Talk has swirled in recent weeks that McGregor has lost the support of his players after the Dragons embarked on yet another late-season slump, losing six of their past eight matches.
After sliding from first on the ladder to sixth, the Dragons are at genuine risk of exiting the competition in the opening week of the finals.
However, while disappointed with the team’s recent form, forward Tariq Sims denied the players had lost faith in their coach.
“Yes absolutely [we still want to play for McGregor],” Sims said. “Someone said that to me the other day and I sort of rubbished that right on the spot. He’s probably one of the proudest coaches I’ve ever played for and he’s one of the coaches that as a player makes you want to play for him.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Mary, he was one of the main reasons I came down here. Obviously the team and to play for my local club, to play for a coach such as Mary was too good for me to knock back, he was a major reason why I came here.”
Sims’ Origin teammate Jack de Belin also backed his coach, labelling the criticism premature given the fact McGregor has returned the team to the finals for the just the second time since 2011.
“That’s probably a little extreme, considering how well we started the year and at the time hearing people say we should re-sign him or extend him and things like that,” de Belin said of suggestions McGregor should be sacked.
“I suppose as soon as you go through a bad run, a month or however long it is, people are quick to drop the axe. Mary’s fine, all the boys are behind him, there shouldn't be an issue at all.”
The Dragons forward pack has struggled in recent weeks and McGregor has taken heat for opting against resting his Origin stars, however both players denied the Origin period was to blame for their late season struggles.
“I know, to a man, everyone that played representative football, wanted to play football, so that came down to us," Sims said. “As a player we took it out of Mary’s hands and said we wanted to play.” When quizzed if McGregor should have taken the decision out of the players hands, Sims suggested players are best positioned to make the decision.
“I don’t think if you’re injured you’re going to go out there and play. I think to a person we just haven’t played up to our standards.”