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Dragons board sacks Griffin as wooden spoon fears grow but club claims season can be salvaged

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Expert
16th May, 2023
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St George Illawarra have terminated the contract of coach Anthony Griffin, effective immediately, at a board meeting on Tuesday morning after plummeting out of playoff calculations on the back of six straight losses. 

The Dragons are staring down the barrel of their first wooden spoon after slumping to 16th with a 2-8 record in Griffin’s third season at the helm. 

Former Dragons international Jason Ryles is the frontrunner to replace Griffin while current assistant Ryan Carr has been elevated to interim coach for the rest of this season. 

Carr, who has been an assistant at Souths and Parramatta prior to joining the Dragons this year, has never coached at NRL level and will make his debut on Friday in the home clash at Kogarah against the Roosters.

“These decisions are never taken lightly and on behalf of the club I want to thank Anthony for all his hard work during his time at the Dragons,” chief executive Ryan Webb said in the club’s brief official statement.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 13: Dragons coach Anthony Griffin looks on after losing the round 11 NRL match between North Queensland Cowboys and St George Illawarra Dragons at Qld Country Bank Stadium on May 13, 2023 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Dragons coach Anthony Griffin looks on after losing the round 11 clash with the Cowboys. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“Unfortunately our performances over the first 10 games of this season have not met the club’s expectations so it was decided he should finish up his duties this week.”

Ryles will need to negotiate an early release from his contract as a Roosters assistant coach under Trent Robinson, which runs until the end of next year, to link with St George Illawarra. 

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The former NSW and Australian prop, who lives in Wollongong, has developed a reputation as an NRL coach in waiting during his time as deputy to Robinson, Craig Bellamy and Eddie Jones while he was at the helm of the English rugby union side. 

Ryles was also in the frame to succeed Bellamy as Storm coach but the veteran premiership-winning mentor’s decision on Monday to stick around next year means Queensland Origin coach Billy Slater looms as his likely replacement in 2025. 

Former Dragons premiership-winning duo Ben Hornby and Dean Young are also in the race for the vacancy at their old club after impressing as assistants on the Rabbitohs and Cowboys coaching staff respectively. 

Griffin was signed for 2021 on a two-year deal with an option for a third which the club exercised before the start of last season. 

The team missed the finals in each of his first two years in charge and was criticised for a simplistic game plan and a lack of discipline. 

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Griffin had been dumped by Penrith and Brisbane in his two previous stints as an NRL coach and although he had a relatively strong record during the regular season at those clubs, he was unable to convert that into finals success. 

Tellingly, both teams made a grand final within two years of Griffin being replaced. 

Webb later told AAP that they believe this season’s campaign can be salvaged with Carr in the driver’s seat.

“We’re hoping to get better results out of them for 2023,” Webb said. “When the process started looking for 2024, Anthony was one of the names. His interview was the results on the field.

“That’s the position we started with. We had to see who else was out there alongside him. Ultimately the results of the past six weeks haven’t been there. The board’s decision is we want to see what we can do this year. We think we have some better results in us now, so they wanted to go with the change.”

Griffin’s departure at the Dragons casts doubt on the future of captain Ben Hunt. 

The veteran halfback, who brought up his 300th match last weekend in the 42-22 loss to North Queensland, has been a staunch advocate of his long-time mentor, who coached him when the Broncos won the under 20s premiership in 2008 and during the early stages of NRL career in Brisbane. 

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(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Hunt re-signed last year with the Dragons until the end of 2025 and has been linked to a potential switch to the Dolphins, Bulldogs or Titans if he also moves on. 

Several current players, including Jack Bird and Blake Lawrie, have recently voiced their support for Griffin.

Veteran forward Jack de Belin told reporters at Tuesday morning’s training session at WIN Stadium that the players felt they had let Griffin down.

“This is someone’s livelihood. It’s their job, their livelihood,” he said. “It’s very sad, when anyone loses their job regardless of what field or expertise they’re in. I have a lot of sympathy in that sense.

“A lot of that is on us players. I have a lot of guilt in the sense that I could have done more and probably helped out. It is pretty sad.”

The joint venture board’s decision on Tuesday was a seemingly inevitable result since since prior to the start of this season when they informed the coach that they would test the market to gauge interest in the position for 2024. 

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Jack De Belin

Jack de Belin (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Griffin was told he would be given the first couple of months of the season to prove he should earn a new contract but after 11 rounds, the team has struggled with wins over the Titans at Kogarah in Round 1 and the Dolphins at Wollongong in Round 5 their only victories for the year. 

His career record now stands at 118 wins from 230 matches for a credible 51.3% success rate but he has the worst statistics among St George Illawarra’s full-time coaches with just 22 victories in 57 starts at 38.6%.

Dragons officials are due to hold a meeting with fans on Tuesday evening in Wollongong and via video link. De Belin hopes they stand by the club amidst talk that they will stage a protest about how it has been run during Friday night’s Kogarah clash with the Roosters.

“Dragons fans are very passionate, loud supporters and we haven’t given them the results they deserve,” de Belin said.

“It’d be very frustrating to be a Dragons supporter, no doubt. Looking to the future. We’ve obviously got to get some results happening and just as an overall build the club the way it should be built.”

with AAP

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