North Queensland have claimed their second NRL Nines title with a 23-14 win over St George Illawarra in Perth.
St George Illawarra players have leapt to the defence of coach Paul McGregor and his management of the team through the State of Origin period.
The Dragons have struggled out of this year’s representative season, slipping from first to sixth in the past eight weeks after having won just two games in the period.
Of the five Dragons to play Origin this year, only Tyson Frizell was rested through the period while Paul Vaughan has since also been sidelined through injury.
But Tariq Sims, Jack de Belin and Ben Hunt – who all had their biggest ever Origin workloads this year – have all played through without rest, prompting the likes of Braith Anasta to be critical of McGregor’s management this week.
But Sims refuted those views, claiming the players were happy with the approach that had been taken.
“I know to a man everyone who played representative football wanted to play football,” Sims said.
“That came down to us and as players we took it our of Mary’s hands and said we wanted to play. For him to blame Mary, I think he should probably blame us players.”
Asked if the decision should have been taken out of McGregor’s hands, Sims said their current situation still wouldn’t have players running out when they shouldn’t.
“I don’t think if you’re injured you’re going to go out there and play,” he said.
“I think just to a person we haven’t played to our standards as representative players.”
Crucially, it should be noted that the Dragons regularly rested the players from training, while performance manager Nathan Pickworth travelled with New Zealand and England players to Denver to monitor their workloads.
McGregor has also insisted he hasn’t played anyone while injured this year – pointing to the different weeks Frizell has taken off.
Meanwhile, De Belin has since admitted he should’ve done more to get away from the game throughout that time, but said that he’d desperately wanted to play at the time.
“Looking back it maybe I could’ve done with a rest but then you want to play,” de Belin said.
“You always want to back up and do your best for your club. Maybe lessons learned there, maybe it’s best the freshen up. But if he asked me, I would’ve wanted to play.”
De Belin also shot back at McGregor’s critics who had called for his future to be brought into question at the club with another year still to run on his contract.
“That’s probably a little extreme considering how well we started the year and you hear things saying we should re-sign him and extend,” the No.13 said.
“Mary’s fine, all the boys are behind him there.”