BY CURTIS WOODWARD
St George Illawarra as a joint-venture has never won the dreaded wooden spoon. While the Steelers finished last in 1989, you have to go all the way back to 1938 to find the last time the Dragons claimed the worst title in rugby league.
Joseph Lyons was Prime Minister, Canterbury beat Eastern Suburbs in the premiership final, television icon Bert Newton and tennis legend Rod Laver were born while World War II hadn’t even been a thing yet.
Never has there been so much pressure on coach Paul McGregor and the fans know it. They’ve been banging their heads against a wall for years. Many want him out. They’ve wanted him gone for a long time.
Only a top four finish can save McGregor.
But it isn’t looking good for the Red V.
Coming off the back of running 15th in 2019, St George Illawarra have lost their best player and their captain in Gareth Widdop who has returned to England but have picked up a couple of veterans in Trent Merrin and Issac Luke.
The club brought in Phil ‘Gus’ Gould to review the football department.
They moved eight staff members on and McGregor headed off to the United States for a leadership course.
New faces in 2020 will include disgraced former Sharks coach Shane Flanagan as an assistant and a ‘mind and performance’ coach to run meditation classes.
“I interviewed ten coaches and Shane (Flanagan) was the most impressive in our interviews,” McGregor told The Big Sports Breakfast recently.
“I think Shane is a real good fella. and I don’t know him too well, but the conversation I had I’m really looking forward to bouncing ideas off him.
“The experience he’s got is going to help. I’ve heard some different things, but what I heard from Shane was a guy that’s really missed the game and wants to get back into the game and will do anything he can for the team.”
This is all fantastic but nothing can save McGregor if his team isn’t winning.
Since 2014, McGregor’s Dragons have finished 11th, 8th, 11th, 9th, 7th and 15th.
It’s a very average looking form line.
Dragons administrators are a patient bunch.
McGregor himself was part of the ’89 Steelers club who finished last passed the post although he wouldn’t break into the top grade until 1991.
In 1938, St George Dragons would win their third and final spoon under the guidance of poor old captain/coach Norm Pope, winning just three matches. He was just one of two players in the squad that would ever play representative footy. The other was a bloke by the name of Bernie Martin.
It was the darkest of days for a club that would go on to become the undisputed heavyweight champions of rugby league for decades and be home to names like Reg Gasnier, Norm Provan, Graeme Langlands, Johnny Raper, Ken Kearney, Billy Smith, Kevin Ryan, Harry Bath and Ian Walsh.
Hell, it’s a far cry from 2010 and modern-day heroes Dean Young, Matt Cooper, Mark Gasnier, Ben Hornby, Beau Scott and Ben Creagh.
Could another wooden spoon be just around the corner?
They’ve never been closer.
McGregor does, quite rightfully, cop plenty of the criticism from supporters but it doesn’t mean the players shouldn’t go unscathed. Particularly big name playmakers Corey Norman and Ben Hunt.
Time to earn your keep, boys.
Otherwise, it’s a slice of history you’ll be sitting with for the rest of your lives.