In Round 10, 2014, St George Illawarra lost 36-0 to Parramatta, a result which saw them fall from competition leaders to 13th on the table in the space of six weeks. It was the point of no return for Steve Price.
Price took over the Dragons in the post-Wayne Bennett era, but he couldn’t get the side to fire like the super coach had.
From 2012 to 2014, he was in charge 58 times for 22 wins – a success rate of just 37.9 per cent.
The club didn’t accept prolonged failure then. He was replaced by former player Paul McGregor.
Fast forward to this April, when the Dragons had opened their season with back-to-back losses before winning their next three straight games. That was enough for officials to decide that McGregor deserved a new contract.
Up until that point, ‘Mary’ had won 60 of 118 games – just over half. He’d snuck his side into the top eight in 2015, finished 11th in 2016, ninth in 2017, before rising to seventh last year.
After his new deal, St George Illawarra have won just four of their 18 games – a paltry 22.22 per cent success rate.
Now there’s talk he could lose his job at the end of the year. Madness.
There have been mumblings all year that the Jack de Belin saga was largely to blame for their season. But given the fact they won four of their opening six games, this is improbable.
In 2019, the Red V have had their lowest possession percentage of all their full seasons under McGregor. In 2015 and 2017 it was over 51 per cent, 2016 was at 49.3 per cent, 2018 was 48.8 per cent, and 2019 is slightly lower at 48.7.
This year is their second-worst for completions over that time, at 76.3 per cent, with only 2016’s 75.4 per cent worse.
They’ve also made fewer line breaks in 2019 than their previous two seasons – 5.1 per game in 2017 and 3.4 in 2018, compared to 3.2 this year.
But most glaring is the field of post-contact metres. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 the Dragons averaged more per game than the competition average. But in 2018, that number dipped below the average. And while the number of post-contact metres has dropped competition-wide in 2019, McGregor’s team have fallen even further.
Tackle breaks also peaked in 2017, at 40.4 per game. In 2018 they were down to 35.8 and have plummeted to 28 in 2019.
Dummy-half running is the lowest it’s ever been under McGregor. In 2016 they made 14.6 runs from dummy half per game but that number fell to 12.5 and 12.3 in 2017 and 2018 respectively. In 2019, it’s down to just 10.
Offloads, which had been a team trait, have dropped by two per game in 2018 and almost another two again this year. Try assists have also fallen over the last two seasons, as have line-break assists.
There have been increases – but not in good areas. Missed tackles have gone up, as have handling errors. Ineffective tackles and penalties conceded have ever so slightly improved from 2018, but are still notably worse than in 2017.
Given de Belin’s absence is being cited as a major factor for the poor year, it’s only fair to look at his stats.
In 2018, he had four line breaks, 40 tackle breaks, 29 offloads, no try assists, 26 missed tackles, 12 errors, and conceded 16 penalties.
If added to their 2019 stats, his figures do not improve the team’s numbers enough to stop the downward trend.
Now obviously this is a simplistic view, however if a pack brimming with international stars like James Graham, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, and Korbin and Tariq Sims cannot cover for de Belin’s loss – let alone maintain solid numbers for three years – then there’s a much bigger issue.
Despite the magnificent squad all at the peak of their careers, this team is going backwards. They started heading in that direction before the last off-season.
The problem is a one-dimensional coach who is incapable of adapting and implementing changes to the point his side has become pedestrian. They are now the worst thing a team can be in attack: predictable. Much like the excuses he constantly trots out.
The Dragons should have waited until the end of 2019 to determine what to do with the gaffer. Not one club would have been chasing him in April, so why rush into re-signing him? The writing was on the wall last year, but a finals appearance papered over the cracks.
McGregor is the sixth coach in the joint-venture’s history and has a success rate of 47.4 per cent, which is better than Steve Price (37.9%) and Andrew Farrar (43.3%), but well behind Bennett (65%), David Waite (56.3%) and Nathan Brown (53%).
The Round 24 loss to the Tigers saw Paul McGregor become the St George Illawarra Dragons’ losingest coach in 21 years of existence.
He, and those responsible for extending his tenure as coach, need to be replaced immediately if the club is to turn their fortunes around.