With four losses in four games spread over three months in the middle of a pandemic, the St George Illawarra Dragons have again reached a crisis point in their history.
Coach Paul McGregor is in the firing line and within the sight of the media wolves. The question that remains though is can anyone else who is available do a better job than the current coach?
Over the 20 years that the joint venture has been playing in the NRL, the Dragons have generally under-performed with the rosters they have had.
Two grand final appearances in that time, for one victory under Wayne Bennett in 2010, is endemic of that feeling.
Apart from Bennett, other Dragons coaches have had squads that on paper look to be good enough to fight for premierships but have failed to live up to that reputation.
McGregor himself has now been the head coach for seven years and been in charge of teams that have variously been labelled as an attacking team that can’t defend, or a defensive team that cannot score.
Whichever way the team has performed in that season, the changes made for the following season still seem to not keep their detractors happy not be able to deliver results for an entire season that reflect the best that the players involved can offer.
Even last season, when McGregor was re-signed on a new multi-year deal, the results and performance of the side didn’t seem to justify that occurring, especially given that no one felt that the coach was going to be pilfered by another club prior to the end of the season.
It appeared a strange decision to make, and results leading into the end of 2019 appeared to confirm that the decision to re-sign him had actually just left the club with no room to manoeuvre.
Certainly questions can be asked about player recruitment in recent times, and whether or not those in charge of this aspect have been on the same page as the coach and his staff.
Players with undoubted ability but perhaps questionable temperament have been signed to long-term and somewhat pricey deals, and those players just aren’t living up to their reputations. Whether that is a player failing or a coach failing or a combination of the two, at the moment the team is suffering because of it.
It feels like McGregor has been under pressure from fans and the media for the entirety of his time as head coach of the Dragons.
This is partly because there is always high expectations of the Dragons brand to be making finals and winning premierships, and to a certain extent this is true, but the further into his coaching reign we have moved the pressure for success has increased.
And the current climate is not improving for him.
The Dragons should have won their first two games before the suspension of the competition, and had they done this then no doubt we would just be in ‘business as usual’ mode. But the loss of those two games along with the two poor defeats on return to New Zealand and Canterbury has left McGregor’s position in major peril.
While the pressure to sack him will be relentless from the media over the next week, is there any coach available currently who could honestly hope to do better with the current Dragons roster?
Shane Flanagan, who is assistant coach, is banned from holding the head coach’s role, so if McGregor is to be replaced they will have to hire a new person – and that coach will have to work with the same players who are currently not performing for McGregor.
For many reasons they will be on a hiding to nothing. And that begs the question as to whether the Dragons are better off sticking with McGregor for 2020 and give themselves a chance for a fresh slate in 2021, rather than bring in a new coach now and have them struggle with the same problems that already exist within the playing squad.
Logic suggests McGregor will be gone within weeks if not days, but whether that will actually improve the Dragons outlook for 2020 has to be considered seriously unlikely.