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What was the Shane Flanagan experiment all about?

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Roar Guru
1st October, 2020
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I realise it’s finals time in the NRL, but as a rusted-on St George Illawarra supporter, I’m not totally committed to the outcome.

I’ll watch the games of course, but am still trying to work out what happened to the mighty Dragons over the past two and a bit seasons.

I think I’ve got most things worked out, but one question still nags me. What was the board thinking when they decided to take on Shane Flanagan as an assistant coach?

For those of you still reading, a bit of Dragons history.

On paper, 2018 was a great season for the joint venture. After starting out looking like runaway minor premiers, the Dragons stumbled badly after State of Origin but had done enough earlier in the year to finish in the top four. They belted the Broncos in their first finals game and very nearly got across the line against the Bunnies.

On the coaching front, Paul McGregor was riding high in the early part of the season and was praised for his team’s efforts in the finals, with a string of embarrassing losses after the Origin series seemingly ignored.

The 2019 season saw the Dragons start slowly with two losses, followed by two one-point wins and a thumping victory over the Doggies. At this point, the board, for reasons still not fully explained, made the brilliant decision to extend Paul McGregor’s contract for an additional two years.

The team then proceeded to win only three further games and finished 15th.

Enter Shane Flanagan.


Flanagan started with the Dragons in December last year and I think many of us were more concerned about why he was taken on, given all the strife he’d been a part of at the Sharks. I remember thinking at the time that we had enough problems winning games without taking on any baggage he might be still carrying.

Nevertheless, the club reassured the faithful they’d done plenty of due diligence, so I was happy to have a guy with his level of success at the Club.

I along with many others, saw him as bloke who would take over from McGregor. Given that his ban from working as a head coach was not completed until the end of 2021, I resigned myself to another year of Red V misery, thanks to that stupid contract extension.

And so it turned out to be, with the side winning one additional game this year.

Fast forward to October 2020 and Flanagan’s gone, his contract not extended once Anthony Griffin was appointed. Now I’m wondering why we signed him in the first place.

Was he taken on because the board finally realised what a mistake they’d made in extending McGregor’s contract, which they were loathe to pay out? Perhaps they thought by getting Flanagan, they band-aid the coaching problem by using a premiership-winning coach to guide the side while Mary acted as a front person?

If so, that didn’t work.

Shane Flanagan

(Hannah Peters/Getty Images)


I read mid-year that he was supposed to have been the brains behind the Dragons attack, but for the most part, that attack was clunky, hence the team winning only seven games.

A lot of that had to do with incessant changes in the spine, with McGregor and the selection committee rarely having the same combinations in place from one week to the next. Was Flanagan part of that committee? I have no idea.

He clearly didn’t fit into Griffin’s plans and was one of the first to finish up, but what is Flanagan’s legacy? To be perfectly honest, I have no idea.

His presence can’t have been a positive for McGregor because it seemed at times that Mary was a dead man walking, with Flanagan simply waiting for his ban to be up before talking over the top job. That can’t have helped McGregor’s confidence, on top of the massive number of losses the team endured.

There’s no doubt Flanagan would have brought ideas with him, but if they were used, they didn’t work too well. I’m sure some players improved, (Matt Dufty and Zac Lomax are two that spring to mind), but whether Flanagan had much of an impact on their improvement is hard to say.

Was he meant to mentor McGregor? If so, that clearly didn’t work either, so why was he hired?

The board has made some truly baffling decisions over the past few years and taking on an ex-head coach who can’t be a head coach to help a head coach who was not a good fit is simply one more questionable call.

I’m hoping at some point in the future those of us who care will be given a truthful explanation about why Flanagan was taken on. Until then, it’s going to remain another rugby league mystery.