Well, it’s been quite a week for the Dragons’ faithful.
Firstly local product Euan Aitken decided to move on and signed a three-year deal with the Warriors. The non-retention of Aitken was a strategic decision by the Dragons.
Brayden Williame is on the books for 2021 plus twin brothers Matt and Max Feagai will be pushing for first grade next year. Even without any Canterbury Cup in 2020 they look to both be first-grade ready. Both are capable of playing wing or centre. They are big, strong and fast. Both represented NSW under-18s and Australian schoolboys.
On the same day the Aitken news broke, long-standing signing target Adam Elliott announced he’s staying put at the Bulldogs. The Dragons have been pursuing Elliott for some time, seeing him as a replacement for the Newcastle-bound Tyson Frizell.
I wonder given current events if Frizell might regret signing with Newcastle so early. The Dragons are now closer to a premiership than Newcastle.
With a number of players moving on during 2020, the Dragons have plenty of space in their salary cap to sign a few quality forwards to complement all the locally produced talent. They would love to move on Corey Norman but given that he’s owed $850,000 in 2021 that’s no easy task.
Then of course came the massive news that after a 25-year association, Paul McGregor and the St George Illawarra Dragons were parting company. McGregor’s final game in charge was the Round 14 clash against Parramatta where the Dragons – despite playing with 12 men – rallied in the wet for their coach and won a very hard fought victory 14-12. I say 12 men because Corey Norman was a total passenger and Tristan Sailor didn’t make it on the field. Much like James Graham’s final game, the team wanted to send Mary out a winner.
By all reports it’s been an amicable break-up and the matter has been handled with class and respect. Say what you want about McGregor’s coaching record and I’ve been more critical than most, but he’s had a 25-year relationship with the Steelers and joint-venture Dragons. He deserves to be a club legend and go out a winner.
Dean Young will take over as interim coach until a permanent replacement can be found. A milestone should be acknowledged that not only have Dean and Craig Young both won premierships at the Dragons but both have now been first-grade coaches. That’s pretty cool.
Club CEO Ryan Webb has said that the club won’t be rushing to appoint a replacement coach. The board wants to take its time and find the right candidate. Right now the Dragons need an experienced first-grade coach who can bring all the moving parts together into a cohesive team structure that the players can buy into.
McGregor was vocal at the end that he couldn’t work with the selection committee. The constant swapping of players in and out of key positions was also a big frustration for the playing group. The selection committee didn’t work for anyone.
Now to discuss the elephant in the room, Shane Flanagan. Ryan Webb stated in a press conference that the club will not be making any approaches to the NRL on behalf of Flanagan. If Flanagan wants to apply for the head coach role in 2021, he and his management team will need to resolve his coaching ban themselves directly with the NRL. This is very much the same approach the club took with Jack de Belin.
As a 40-plus-year Dragons fan, I’m finally feeling optimistic about the future. The seven McGregor years were hard to take. But in spite all of this, the Dragons’ brand remains strong and the junior farm system continues to pump out quality young players. All we need is the right coach to bring it all together, then we’ll be able to take our rightful spot on top of the table again.
Bring on 2021!