Dragons’ secret list of coaches to replace McGregor
For the past couple of weeks, largely unbeknown to Paul McGregor, members of senior management at St George Illawarra have been drawing up the names of future coaches on to an A4 piece of paper.
Michael Maguire, Paul Green, Wayne Bennett, Kevin Walters, Craig Fitzgibbon, Jason Ryles.
With more than 10, the list is longer than it is short.
As predictable as the Dragons attack of late, you can be certain the suits at Saints will ring their media department to suggest as early as Sunday pushing out a statement that denies the existence of a list.
We can only hope.
What a Sunday it will be when someone steps up to speak aside from McGregor or a handful of players, including rookie captain Cam McInnes, who right now, have been the only conduit to their fed-up fans.
The small problem for the merged-club's brains trust is this column isn't the only one who is ultra-aware of the list. It's fallen into the hands of a leading agent, too. And potentially a couple more.
So the decision-makers at the Dragons need to think smart.
Here they are professing their support of McGregor when in the very next room they're vetting his potential replacement.
Nobody could question the hierarchy's due diligence - especially at a time where the pain and frustration down south is so real, one of the toughest men to play the game, James Graham, feels like hiding inside his jumper.
But it's almost as though, like losing their mobile phone reception coming down the winding bends of Mount Ousley, the Dragons executives have forgotten footy's golden rule: There are no secrets in rugby league.
Like the other secret, too, which spilled out of the mouth of the former executive at Saints.
Knowing the year-on-year physical toll the daily commute does to those players who travel to Wollongong from the Shire - and subsequent impact on results - as well as the club's tired facilities at WIN Stadium and the constant search for sponsors and cash, the high-placed executive confided a desire for the club to investigate a second merge. This time around with their neighbours and arch rivals on Sunday night, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.
Behind the rusty old gates at Woolooware, with a cap out the front for any loose change, the Sharks are more than happy for the world outside to believe they are battling and poor.
They carry-on like my Italian uncle, who has holes in his shoes, frays on his collar and walks with chronic back pain due to the wads of cash stuffed in his trousers pocket.
So while holding up a bedsheet in front of land assets worth close to $30 million, the Sharks smirked upon hearing of the discussion being had down the road, quipping that for them, it would not be so much a merge, but a takeover of their Big Brother.
Needless to say, the merge - or takeover - has gone nowhere and might just be the reason why the former executive is now gone.
The fact the discussion was even had suggests more about what is happening to one of the most powerful brands in Australian sport - who they are as a club, their leadership and how quickly they're losing their soul.
As St George approaches their 100th anniversary of participation in first-grade competition next year, they are gripped by their worst finals record since the 1930s.
You have to go back to the Great Depression to find a time when the Dragons had won just one finals match in a decade - as is the case right now.
Since winning the 2010 premiership, the Dragons have won just one semi-final, beating Brisbane 48-18 in 2018.
The numbers don't help McGregor's bid to stay.
He's been around footy long enough to know that his time is ticking with every loss.
In love with the club, he also knows the circuit breaker to fixing the Dragons may just be kissing them goodbye.
For the Sack Mary establishment, who are spending way too much time on social media signing petitions and designing Dragon effigies, news of the Red-V hierarchy saying one thing, but doing the opposite, is like Christmas coming early.
The loudest voices want McGregor gone, so news of a target list of coaches will be cause to celebrate. But what does the list say about the club's respect for their members and fans given Tuesday's media statement?
"Although the board acknowledges the club's performances so far throughout 2020 have been unacceptable; we will continue to support Paul, his staff and the team through these tough times," Dragons chairman Andrew Gordon said.
"We are committed to Paul as coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons and look forward to seeing him right the wrongs of the opening month of the current campaign.
"We are a club that stands by our people when under pressure. This is a time for loyalty, strength and commitment to improve from the players, coach, board and staff."
Why not just be upfront and concede change is coming?
Like the Dragons executives, McGregor has to think smarter. Why stick around when management's support is as thin as the paper it's written on?
McGregor told Fox League's NRL 360 after the Dragons' soul-sapping 20-point loss to Canterbury last Monday that he wouldn't be walking away because he's not a "quitter".
The interview was brave.
He fronted up, unlike his bosses, who refuse to.
Now we know why.
The search for his replacement has already begun.
Originally published as Revealed: Dragons' secret list of coaches to replace McGregor