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Opinion

McGregor's got to go - but he shouldn't go alone

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8th June, 2020
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There are many things that can be said about St George Illawarra Dragons coach, Paul McGregor.

But even the most hardcore Dragons fan must admit that he showed courage, passion and honesty in fronting up to the media shortly after his team’s abysmal performance against the Canterbury Bulldogs on Monday, a performance which saw the Dragons slump to their fourth straight loss this year and become the only team that remains winless after four rounds.

McGregor’s message during the post-match interview was clear – “I’m not a quitter”.

And of his team – “you don’t quit on people you believe in and have confidence.”

However, as we know, in footy the decision about whether he keeps his job is not his own. There seems to be consensus that McGregor’s days at the Dragons are numbered.

However, if McGregor is to lose his job this week or in the coming weeks, his head cannot be the only one that rolls.

The board of the Dragons and management at the club must also be held accountable and if I were a fan of the club, I would be asking serious questions about the way the club is being managed.

The board and management must take some responsibility for the decision to re-sign McGregor to a two-year deal in April of 2019 meaning that he is currently contracted with the club until the end of 2021. That deal, if it comes to its natural conclusion, will make McGregor the most capped coach in the joint venture’s short history.

What baffled me about the decision to re-sign McGregor at that time, was that to me, there were some worrying signs about his coaching even at that point, despite the Dragons being in the top eight having won their last three games after starting their season with two losses.

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Paul McGregor

Paul McGregor. (AAP Image/ Action Photographics, Robb Cox)

Those flaws are still on show now.

You only need to look at the wholesale changes he made to his squad ahead of the game against the Bulldogs – Ben Hunt to five-eighth, Corey Norman to fullback, Adam Clune into the starting side as halfback and Matt Dufty dropped.

Wholesale changes in and of themselves are not problematic. Gold Coast Titans coach Justin Holbrook made some changes to his team to take on the Wests Tigers and it seemed to prove successful. Smart coaches know when to make tweaks to make their team better.

But chopping and changing his squad is perfectly normal behaviour for McGregor.

Last year, his standard approach to team selection saw him play musical chairs with his spine each week, rotating players like Corey Norman, Ben Hunt, Matt Dufty, Gareth Widdop and Cameron McInnes throughout games.

The strategy didn’t work on Monday against the Bulldogs and it didn’t work last year.

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The Dragons finished 15th last season, despite the fact that their side boasted several current and former

Internationals and State of Origin representatives including Hunt, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims, Paul Vaughan, James Graham and Widdop.

What this chopping and changing tells me is that McGregor has no idea who his best 17 are and in what position they should play.

His coaching record at the club reflects this too, with his win percentage sitting at below 50 per cent.

But despite this, management still made the decision to re-sign McGregor earlier in 2019.

Some will tell you that McGregor was given some leeway because of the havoc created by the Jack de Belin situation.

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No one saw this coming and McGregor was open in saying what an impact de Belin missing a season had on his structures and attack.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor

Dragons coach Paul McGregor needs to shake his team selections up. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

But I call rubbish on this. If a club wants success, leeway based on one player missing a season is not good enough.

It is not quite the same thing, but clubs have to deal with plenty of surprises during the season including injury – excusing an abysmal season because one player is missing is unacceptable.

The current predicament the club faces, that being whether to keep McGregor or not, is a significant one.

Should the club seek to terminate his contract, it will be an expensive decision, given that the most likely option is that there will either be a settlement or the club will need to pay him out for the remainder of his contract.

This is financial suicide in an environment where many clubs have financial concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately this financial decision will be weighed up against the risk associated with allowing McGregor to see out his contract and the lack of success that may come with that decision.

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But regardless of what happens with McGregor, for the Dragons to succeed they are going to need far more than a change of coach. Wholesale changes are needed – and they need to come across the board.