Is Paul McGregor the right man to coach the Dragons?

Walter Penninger Roar Guru

By Walter Penninger, Walter Penninger is a Roar Guru

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    After winning only four the last 12 matches in 2017, many questioned the wisdom of extending Dragons coach Paul McGregor’s contract for another two years.

    McGregor was far too timid last year in testing his up-and-coming players, focused primarily on defence, and left an uninspired attack to flounder.

    The off-season recruitment focused upon experience, with Ben Hunt and James Graham the stars, as well as forwards Jeremy Latimore and Mitch Allgood coming in.

    Accordingly, it seems – given the emphasis on experience in recruitment – Latimore and Allgood will be preferred to promising forwards Luciano Leilua (who was entirely ignored at NRL level last year), Hame Sele and Jacob Host (who both saw considerable game time). If this is the case, then the Dragons will be missing the opportunity to blood good young players who might make a difference in tight games.

    McGregor will also have to make a choice at fullback, after the departure of Josh Dugan to Cronulla.

    Some pundits are suggesting McGregor may be tempted to follow Wayne Bennett’s lead from the World Cup and trial Gareth Widdop at fullback, leaving Matt Dufty, and other possible contenders such as Kurt Mann and Jai Field, to possibly fill the vacant five-eighth spot.

    The problem this year is that there is no Auckland Nines competition to give the young players a chance to show what they have to offer. At this stage, the only trial matches are a World Cup challenge match against Hull and the annual Charity Shield against South Sydney, which are both likely to be treated seriously.

    McGregor might be tempted to trial Widdop at fullback for at least a part of these trials, with a range of experienced and junior players being utilised in the second row and possibly front row during the latter part of the games.

    Gareth Widdop England Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Gregg Porteous)

    Come the opening match of the season in March against the Broncos, what can we expect?

    Ben Hunt will face off against his old club for the first time and is likely to have Widdop at five-eighth, because that is why McGregor bought Hunt and changing his mind is not something that comes easily to him.

    McGregor is also likely to revert to experienced players because of their perceived defensive prowess and toughness and it will be a hard path for the young players to fight their way into the 17 despite stellar performances in the NSW Cup.

    Broncos coach Bennett and assistant coach Jason Demetriou still have to make up their minds about Hunt’s replacement in the halves, with Kodi Nikorima possibly being preferred to Troy Dargan.

    Despite McGregor, I will tip the Dragons to win both their trial matches, to get up at home against the Broncos, and finally make the top eight in 2018 – only to be knocked out in the first week.

    McGregor too will survive the season as coach, with the Dragons’ management being happy with mediocre results.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (70)

    • January 11th 2018 @ 2:51am
      Jeff dustby said | January 11th 2018 @ 2:51am | ! Report

      I thought the dragons attack improved a lot last year. 2016 was when they struggled in that regard

    • January 11th 2018 @ 2:52am
      Jeff dustby said | January 11th 2018 @ 2:52am | ! Report

      I thought the dragons attack improved a lot last year. 2016 was when they struggled in that regard

      Well done on a good article. (Is that nice, Nat?)

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2018 @ 9:43am
        Nat said | January 11th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        200% Jeff. Even your fist line was constructive and I’m sure the author appreciates the feedback for his unpaid work submitted for your entertainment.

    • January 11th 2018 @ 4:20am
      PanthertillIdie said | January 11th 2018 @ 4:20am | ! Report

      In response to the question in the title of this article, my answer is that I don’t know.
      I haven’t researched his coaching history extensively but he hasn’t achieved anything of note in his almost four years as an NRL head coach at the dragons.
      Mediocrity and inconsistency seem to be the best words to describe the dragons teams he has presided over. Often starting a season well and fading rapidly in the closing stages.
      That said, coaches are sacked too hastily in the modern game for my liking and I like the fact they are sticking by him. He’s got a decent but not amazing roster to work with but make no mistake this will be a pressure season for him. It seems as simple as make the eight – keep your job. Miss the eight – goodbye Mary!

      • January 28th 2018 @ 10:10pm
        Glenn said | January 28th 2018 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

        Blaming the coach is easy and statistics often lie, but the Dragons won 7-8 games straight at the beginning of 2017 and played some great attacking football. Euan Aitken was maturing rapidly and his speed, power and commitment was putting him into Origin contention before injury crippled his season and the Dragons fell away. Lafai always plays better with Aitken next to him. Vaughan was the best attacking prop in the NRL in those games and had real impact. De Belin is also a fine forward and really stepped up in 2017.Frizzell is test match standard of course. Dufty has the goods and will get even better when he adds size and guile to his explosive speed. By all means give the young forwards and backs a real crack at first grade as soon as any of the established players go off the boil or get injured. I’d like to see McDonald fully realize his potential. And why not give Widdop a few opportunities at full back, he was one of the best players in the World Cup playing there against the best of them and seemed to thrive on the space and creative opportunities he exploited well from the back. Hunt gets a fresh start should ensure that the outside backs get good clean ball and they have the ability to use it. If the Dragons can summon the unique passion behind the Red V this side can have an impact and I hope they will. Relentless negativity about the coach serves no purpose. Mary only has to stop the Dragons lapsing into the mindset of one off running and waiting for the miracle play from someone else. Players and teams win matches, not coaches and this team has the goods. Stop Whingeing and get on with it- SAINTS !

        • January 29th 2018 @ 11:32am
          Charles NSW said | January 29th 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          Great to hear support for our coach as many have bagged him for far too long now.
          He has a better team this year and we have more experience for us to improve on last year.

          I think McGregor is still learning in the top grade and could develop into a good coach providing he learns from his mistakes. As a former top class player he deserves our support as he has not had the teams in place to be up there with the leading teams as yet. This year we should be in the top six with the team we have this year!

    • January 11th 2018 @ 7:14am
      Duncan Smith said | January 11th 2018 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      I hear Des is at a loose end …

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2018 @ 10:18am
        Nat said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        What do you think about Des to Newcastle if Brown can’t extract a decent ROI from his new recruits?

        • January 11th 2018 @ 12:12pm
          Ken said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

          I think Brown has earned himself some time. It was a hard slog but the Knights put some games last season and he’s attracted some higher-class players down there this year. Would have been a waste to trust in him through the wastelands of the last few years and then dump him just as he starts to pull them out of it.

          • Roar Guru

            January 11th 2018 @ 1:06pm
            Nat said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

            Is that sentiment though? They spoke of dropping dropping this year. Now he has decent cattle, I wonder where the bar is set by the new board, especially if there are other proven coaches available when his contract expires. The board has to consider what players another coach could attract to the club along with improved playing style. I wish him all the best but I believe this is his last chance.

            • January 11th 2018 @ 6:03pm
              Kenw said | January 11th 2018 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

              Not sentiment. Just not wasting the invested time. If they didn’t have faith in him they could have dumped him anytime over the last couple of years while Newcastle’s fortunes were at their nadir. Seems pointless to drop him over the next 12-24 months just as his plans start looking like they are coming good.

          • January 11th 2018 @ 4:19pm
            Albo said | January 11th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

            I’m with you Ken ! I think Brown has done a pretty good job rebuilding this team despite the 3 straight spoons. He was given no decent cattle to work with originally and has slowly developed a good local group of forwards in particular, and is now attracting some better quality imports to work with that group. Lets see how he goes now. Much will be determined by how well Pearce leads the way on the park and develops combinations with the new spine. I would at least give Brown two more years to keep rebuilding towards success. If he doesn’t show the improvements after that, then fair enough, get another coach. As for suggesting Des as a replacement, not sure he would be the right fit at Newcastle. If the Dogs were the ” parochial family club” that he couldn’t work with, the Knights would be no different , and I would think Danny Buderus might be the next coach at the Knights after Brown, as he fits the local billing.

            • Roar Guru

              January 11th 2018 @ 4:41pm
              Nat said | January 11th 2018 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

              Yeah fair enough. I’m not saying he should go I just expect the Wests board will have expectations, where ever that may be. Is Buderus coaching anywhere now? I know he took over for a while but what’s he doing now?

              • January 12th 2018 @ 6:41am
                BA Sports said | January 12th 2018 @ 6:41am | ! Report

                Danny has been involved with the Junior State program and will now be an assistant to Fittler with the Origin side. He hasn’t had an official capacity with the Knights, but is still pretty close to the Knights – mainly through his relationships with club management and the lower tier sides (NSW Cup and u/20’s).

      • January 11th 2018 @ 10:22am
        Peter Phelps said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        That is not such a silly suggestion.

        Dessie would upset the applecart at the dragons and would be good for them.

        • January 13th 2018 @ 12:07pm
          Wayne Turner said | January 13th 2018 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

          But,the game has changed,Des hasn’t.His coaching of attack is now terrible. Once the NRL cracked down on obstructions,Hasler’s coaching was exposed for the fraud that it is.Plus,he had such a great Manly team,just about anyone could have coached them to premierships then.

          No thanks and no way to Des coaching the Dragons.

    • January 11th 2018 @ 8:16am
      JohnnoMcJohnno said | January 11th 2018 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      All comes down to whether McGregor is capable of learning from his mistakes and progressing as a coach. There were some signs last year that he can. Unfortunately he also seems to have plenty of blind spots, such as valuing experience way more than ability and potential. The other thing that has got me stuffed is that McGregor was a champion back himself in his day, and yet the Dragons backline was close to the worst in the comp last year.

      Is he the right man to coach the Dragons? Probably not but we’re stuck with him.

    • January 11th 2018 @ 8:23am
      BA Sports said | January 11th 2018 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      Top 4 in the minor premiership last year Bellamy, Robinson, Bennett and Arthur

      Bottom 4 Brown, Henry, Taylor/Clearly, Kearney

      Every time I look over at the Dragons coaches box it has McGregor, Young and Hornby – Where is the coach? Three ex-players, no coach.

      Who mentored McGregor? anyone? He did a bit of coaching in the Illawarra league – The list of ex-players coaching in that league is as long as your arm, doesn’t qualify one to coach in the NRL.

      Yes guys like Bennett and Bellamy played at the top club level, but they spent years crafting their skills as a coach and became career coaches, Arthur, Flannagan the same. Yes some ex-players can be good coaches, Bob Fulton was successful, Paul Green is making a good go of it, Des Hasler has had good years, But they were creative players and they need to be surrounded by coaches. McGregor was an outside back who was very passionate which is all well and good, but you only have to sit 10m from him in that coaches box to hear the way he reacts during a game to know he doesn’t have the temperament to be a good coach.

      • January 13th 2018 @ 11:30am
        Wayne Turner said | January 13th 2018 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Spot on. Inbred jobs for the boys,NOT based on merit,but based on playing for the club.

      • January 16th 2018 @ 1:56pm
        Nick Ferris said | January 16th 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        BA, you have got a very good point about three ex players becoming coaches at the Dragons, but as far as who mentored McGregor, it’s hard to quantify how important that is. Bennett was at the Dragons for three years with Steve Price as his assistant, and didn’t Price do a bang up job when he took over.
        Paul McGregor was coached by GrahamMurray, Andrew Farrar and David Waite. Except for Murray, none of these coaches had much skill in the backline, and as he was and outside back he himself wouldn’t have much experience in organising a backline. His other coaching job with a “mentor” was assistant ot Steve Price. It was also no secret that when Bennet took over as caoch of the Dragons, he didn’t want McGregor as assistant
        So where does he get his ideas for improving his coaching skills. My guess is experiencing it’s self, and hopefully he CAN learn from his mistakes.

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