Another week, another loss for the Dragons.
They might have been in the game, but the almost here, but not quite good enough narrative is beginning to wear thin with fans of the famous club following a great win for the understrength Roosters in the Round 13 opener.
Let’s rewind for a moment. It’s Round 4, and the Bulldogs have just used Bankwest Stadium to register one of only two wins so far this season over the Dragons.
Not only that, but they won by 20 points, the Dragons going their second straight game without registering a try.
A clearly under-pressure Paul McGregor, under no illusions about the fact his job was hanging by a thread, fronts NRL 360 on Fox Sports and says as much.
But just days later, the St George Illawarra Dragons board declare the coach has their full support. Since then, the almost daily media pressure has eased, and while it does have to do with an uptick in form for the Red V, it doesn’t mean they are in the clear.
They are going to miss the finals again, meaning the club have only made the top-eight once in the six full seasons McGregor has been coaching in Wollongong.
That record would have seen just about any other club move on their leading man, but the Dragons, historically, just don’t do that. Nathan Brown survived for a very, very long time. Steve Price was there for too long. And now, McGregor was given possibly the strangest contract extension in the history of NRL coaching.
And while even the biggest haters of the man nicknamed Mary will begrudgingly admit the Dragons have shown signs of life, they are still losing games they should be in a position to win, and last night’s effort against the Roosters was their third on the hop.
Against the Sharks and Rabbitohs in the last fortnight, the Dragons have led at various points and should have won both games, but didn’t, before losing to the Roosters last night.
Normally, losing to the Roosters is part and parcel of the season for most sides, but it shouldn’t have been on Thursday.
Their list of outs from the top 17 was staggering. No Josh Morris, Brett Morris, Daniel Tupou, Sam Verrills, Victor Radley, Boyd Cordner or Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, while Kyle Flanagan had been bafflingly dropped during the week.
That’s eight of the top 17 not on the park for the Tricolours. The Dragons may not have been quite at full strength either, and no doubt the late exclusion of Paul Vaughan due to a COVID breach hurt, but after recovering from letting in the first two tries, they grabbed the momentum, only to frustratingly let it slip yet again.
Given the injury toll, credit has to be lumped on the Roosters, who again weren’t at their best, but again found a way to get it done. Trent Robinson is an absolute master of his craft, in terms of being able to have his team ready to play, seemingly no matter the circumstances.
But it again goes to show the difference between a good coach, and a not-so-good one. Is there any chance in the world a team coached by Robinson or Craig Bellamy would have let last night’s game slip? No. Not in the slightest.
In the face of adversity though, Sio Siua Taukeiaho ran for over 300 metres, Joseph Manu stood up and Luke Keary just kept doing what he does best. The Roosters are clinical footy team, and while they won’t win the premiership with so many players out, the Red V were taught a footy lesson last night.
Or more specifically, McGregor was taught a footy lesson in how to prepare a side. It’s not the first time Robinson has pulled off a feat like that in the last six weeks, either.
Was it the right move for the Roosters to drop Kyle Flanagan? Well, it doesn’t look like it right now, given their at times stagnant attack, but that answer will reveal itself properly in the next few weeks.
But, back on the Dragons, and they have made selection moves of their own in the last few weeks which have re-invigorated the team.
One of the key criticisms of Paul McGregor was his inability to use a very strong junior development system at the club, but all of a sudden, Matt Dufty, Zac Lomax, Euan Aitken, Tristan Sailor, Blake Lawrie, Jackson Ford, Jacob Host and Josh Kerr are all in the team.
So while there is cause for positivity moving forward at the club, it would appear on the surface that McGregor is still holding the Red V back from achieving their true potential, which, at a bare minimum on paper, should be well inside the top eight.
Even their improved attack has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the rumours and speculation that Shane Flanagan is having a heavily increased role in running that part of the club.
While the media speculation and pressure is nowhere near what it might have been a few months ago for McGregor, it’s still there, and more losses of last night’s nature will continue to heap it on him.
The plight of the Dragons coach has been buried under that of Paul Green, Dean Pay, Stephen Kearney and Anthony Seibold as the NRL coaching merry-go-round comes to life.
But Mary shouldn’t be forgotten. He hasn’t done nearly enough with the tools at his disposal while in charge of the Red V.
If the club won’t sack him, then he still has time, but if his future is being judged on the results of 2020, then the last three weeks of competitive, but not good enough, won’t have done enough to save him or the sanity of long-suffering fans, who will watch another finals series without their club in it.
2021 must bring rapid and large change at the Dragons. Thursday night’s game proved once and for all that McGregor isn’t the man who should be leading the club forward.