Dragons coach Paul McGregor. Picture: AAP
Dragons coach Paul McGregor. Picture: AAP

Dragons rebuild: McGregor reveals new fullback, captain

Paul McGregor has revealed his pivotal plan to restore pride in St George-Illawarra by implementing unprecedented change, a pack mentality and a new fullback and captain.

In a revealing interview, the Dragons coach also admitted the club were guilty in the past from an over-reliance on the performances of former captain Gareth Widdop and representative forward Jack de Belin.

"I'm deeply passionate about this club, I care greatly," McGregor said.

"I saw what the team went through last year, I saw what the supporter base went through and how we bled.

"I want to make sure the bleeding stops. I'm looking forward to the change and I'm putting a line through last year. The whole organisation has.

"What we do next is ultra important."


In the wake of an alarming 15th-place finish in 2019, the Dragons board ordered an exhaustive review of the entire football operations, led by Phil Gould.


St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor. Picture: AAP
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor. Picture: AAP


Despite a fan-led campaign to change the coach, the review was never going to cost McGregor his job, given the same board chose in April to extend his contract until 2021.

Instead, the review ordered that a massive eight staff changes be made.

For McGregor, it means the most significant shake-up of his six-year tenure in how the side will be coached.

"The most important part of that exercise (the review) was how we implement change and innovate to be successful in the future,"' McGregor said.

"That's what you do the exercise for and that's what we've done, as you can see, from the significant staff change. I've got plenty of experience around me that will help that change the way we operate every day.

"The biggest thing that the players stated (in the review) was that I'm part of the solution, not the problem, which is really pleasing.

"Because when you have a bad year like that, of which I take full responsibility for, I understand the unhappiness of certain sections of our fan base.

"However, I'm very fortunate that those players and the board have put their support behind me."



Gareth Widdop’s departure hurts the Dragons. Picture: AAP
Gareth Widdop’s departure hurts the Dragons. Picture: AAP


Widdop heading back to England after six seasons with the Red V is a game-changer for Saints.

Be it at fullback or five-eighth, the English star determined the end result of each set more than any other Dragons player.

Widdop's exit is a case of perfect timing for McGregor, who is hellbent on taking the Dragons away from a dependence on one or two players - by ensuring every player is accountable.

"If you looked at the way we played the game in the last few years and how we built our team, it was around Gareth and Jack (de Belin)," McGregor said.

"Gareth isn't here, so we can change that style. And the other thing is we can't just rely on Jack. We've got to rely on a forward pack - as one pack. We have to hunt as a pack.

"There was an over-reliance on both those players, not just because they're good players and characters, but they're two we built our systems from."



Zac Lomax will get first shot at the Dragons No.1 jersey. Picture: Getty Images
Zac Lomax will get first shot at the Dragons No.1 jersey. Picture: Getty Images


The Dragons are aware of the interest Zac Lomax - off-contract at the end of 2020 - has in gauging his value on the open market.

But in proof of how much faith McGregor has in the 20-year-old, Lomax will be given first crack at wearing the Red V's famous No. 1 jumper.

"Zac will have the first opportunity at fullback," McGregor said.

"I've got four options. Cody Ramsey is a young player coming through the under-20s and training extremely well. I've got Matt Dufty and Tristan Sailor, who played a little bit of first grade at the end of the year.

"Pre-season and trial form is important to everyone, but we know only one person can play there from those four. And at the moment, Zac is going to get that opportunity."



Cameron McInnes leads rhe way for the Dragons. Picture: Getty Images
Cameron McInnes leads rhe way for the Dragons. Picture: Getty Images


McGregor is an unabashed fan of hooker Cameron McInnes's talent as a footballer and his character.

It's why the dummy-half who is on the comeback trail from a broken leg is the frontrunner to replace Widdop as captain.

"I have the highest opinion of him," McGregor said.

"We're still framing that (captaincy) at the moment but if you're asking is Cam in the picture to be captain? Absolutely."


McGregor knows the full glare of the media spotlight will shift over the club in early February when de Belin stands trial over his role in the alleged rape of a woman in December last year.


Jack de Belin. Picture: AAP
Jack de Belin. Picture: AAP

De Belin remains stood down by the NRL until the conclusion of the trial. The former NSW Origin forward is a vital member of the Dragons - both with his talent as a footballer and his influence at training on the entire squad.

While de Belin's omission rocked the Dragons this year, McGregor said the club was far greater equipped to handle the situation in 2020.

"We've been through it, so for me we know what to do because it's already happened," McGregor said.

"We've been through a whole year of it and this will be finished before the start of the year.

"Last year it was all new and it really rocked the boat. But that's no longer an excuse going forward because it will be handled before the start of the season."


One major recruit the Dragons are yet to formally announce is the appointment of former Cronulla premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan as McGregor's assistant, with a focus on defence.

Under the terms of his NRL suspension, Flanagan can't start his 12-month contract at the Dragons until mid-December.

"I interviewed 10 coaches and by far (Flanagan) was the most impressive," McGregor said. "That's fact. He came from a wooden spoon with the Sharks, into the four and won it (premiership). He's come from the bottom and been to the pinnacle of winning a competition.

"When I interviewed him, I could sense he was very excited about getting back into rugby league - because he loves the game."