As yet another rendition of “When the Saints go marching in” rings around ANZ Stadium St George Illawarra Dragons players and fans celebrate their historic grand final achievement. The date is 3rd October, 2010 and the Dragons have just secured their first premiership as a joint venture and their first premiership since 1979. Champagne flows as do the good times.
The recruitment of super coach Wayne Bennett was the catalyst for the Dragons success as his strong defensive game plan as well as his mentor-ship of often isolated and discarded players paid dividends for the Red V.
Fast forward six years and things couldn’t be any more different for the hapless Dragons.
The club is $7 million in debt, coach Paul McGregor is fighting to keep his job after 2 years of inept attacking play and the once famous Red V are now struggling to attract top caliber talent having played finals football just twice since 2010. How did it end up like this?
The Dragons 2016 season was one of the worst in history. They scored their lowest (on average per game) points in history, had blowout defeats against the likes of Cronulla, Sydney Roosters, Manly and North Queensland. The defence that they had built their season around the previous year had dissipated to nothing more than mere resistance to opposition sides for the first 15 minutes.
Shall we also talk about the shambolic attack? Where to start… No points, no creativity and no desire from the 17 players that ran out on the paddock for the Dragons each week.
The initial blame of the team’s performance has to firmly rest on the shoulders of coach Paul McGregor. His lack of imagination in attack and not making any significant changes to the Dragons attacking structures left the side a laughing stock in 2016. They averaged just 14 points a game and scored 341 points from their 24 matches. In 2015 they scored just 435 at an average of 18 which was masked by their defence which ranked 4th best in the league.
McGregor is unable to get the best out of his playing stock which has dwindled during his tenure. Don’t be surprised to see Benji Marshall find a new lease of life at the Brisbane Broncos. “Mary” was reported to have had a rocky relationship with the former NZ star and this was evident in a lot of his play during 2016.
With the likes of Josh Dugan, Euan Aitken, Tyson Frizzell, Gareth Widdop and Tariq Sims on the roster, winning just 10 games and scroing less than 15 points a game is disgraceful.
McGregor constantly grumbles in press conferences that the only tries the Dragons concede are from kicks as if that is a feasible excuse. His dour, at times boring demeanor does little to endear him to the Dragons faithful. Reports have circulated that the Dragons will move on from him if they don’t have a positive start to the season. This is a typical St George Illawarra response, not too dissimilar to the Australian Cricket team of the 1980’s and 1990’s where you had to die to lose your spot.By the time they move on from McGregor (if they do) then there is a good chance that the Dragons 2017 finals hopes will have gone up in smoke.
If the Dragons want to move forward they need better coaching and it starts with the dismissal of McGregor and his assistants. It is obvious that the players are not coached well and their play won’t change much at all with “Mary” at the helm. The most bizarre thing about this whole situation is that they had a ready made replacement in Illawarra Cutters head coach Jason Demetriou who had won a QLD Cup as assistant coach of the North Queensland Cowboys and did the same with the Cutters in 2016. He had a simple, straight forward gameplan but most of all he coached his players to this plan. The Dragons stayed true to form and let him walk to take up an opportunity with the Brisbane Broncos only a few weeks ago.
Lastly, before I let up on McGregor, I need to talk about player retention. Ah yes, player retention. Us Dragons fans know all to well about that. Josh Miller, Jeremy Latimore, Eto Nabuli, Justin Hunt and Josh Drinkwater are just some of the “brilliant” signings that we have had to contend with in recent years. Adding to this pain is the loss of established stars Jamie Soward, Trent Merrin, Mitch Rein, Matt Prior and Beau Scott.
Furthermore, with the shambolic state of the club and McGregor at the helm who in their right mind would come and play for the once mighty Red V? This is why you saw the Dragons shelve out copious amounts of money to lure Paul Vaughan from the Raiders despite the fact that he spent the second half of the season playing for the Raiders feeder club Mounties in the second tier NSW Cup. Not to mention that the Dragons forward pack is actually one of the better ones in the competition with Frizzell, Thompson, DeBelin, Ah Mau, Masoe and Tariq Sims.
Poor performance on the field are one thing and in many ways that is the easiest and quickest to fix. The off the field worries are of more concern for the Red V.
The club is $7 million in debt and since being in the position of CEO for the last 18 years Peter Doust has done very little to improve the club as a whole. His big move was securing the services of Wayne Bennett and that proved to be a master stroke. However, he failed to ink Bennett to any longer than a three-year contract and has failed at trying to recruit big name coaches and players (namely Craig Bellamy and Cooper Cronk who the Dragons made a play at in 2014 and 2015 respectively).
Fans are not happy with Doust and believe a new CEO would bring a fresh approach to the club. The #oustDoust and #saveoursaints campaigns have brought exposure to the issue of Doust ineptitude but done little to move him off his throne.
Even if Dragons fans want to remove Doust as CEO they will have a hard time doing that.
You need to be a member of the St George Leagues club to even register a vote and even then Doust has the backing of board members and members of the Leagues Club.
Many fans would probably give Doust a break if he hadn’t got the club into such a large debt by mismanagement and then tried to fix the issue by moving home games away from Kogarah and Wollongong. At the heart of both areas are their home grounds and fans are not prepared to travel more than an hour (sometimes two) to the concrete jungle that is ANZ Stadium.
This club has no ambition, no desire and no will to change. They have fallen behind other clubs who have smart, forward thinking boards and CEO’s that put the interests of the club and the fans first. The Dragons are a mess and no quick fix will help them.
The 2010 premiership looks far off in the rear view despite being less than a decade ago.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe that’s what the Dragons are. Insane. Because that’s the way they are sending us fans.