It’s a sad state of affairs to watch the once-proud club St George Illawarra go from one incompetent decision to another writes David Riccio.
It’s a sad state of affairs to watch the once-proud club St George Illawarra go from one incompetent decision to another writes David Riccio.

How Dragons became NRL’s new joke

St George Illawarra management were willing to offer Craig Fitzgibbon $700,000 a season to become their head coach in 2021.

Remember that despite boasting a rich resume and the best apprenticeship in the NRL, the Roosters and NSW Origin assistant mentor has never coached or managed a first-grade squad.

Yet here were the Dragons, preparing last year to catapult Fitzgibbon into a bracket of highest-paid coaches just below the salary of Ricky Stuart (premiership winner), equal with Des Hasler (premiership winner) and above Michael Maguire (premiership winner).

 

Any coach without an NRL job would say Fitzgibbon is mad. But right now, he is proving to be the smartest man in the room.

Because what did the former Country Origin coach do? He politely declined, content to wait for the right club and not the right price.

Well, Dragons fans, let this revelation marinate for a moment and consider the steaming pile of decisions being made at your club.

After Fitzgibbon knocked back the chance to become an NRL coach for the first time at his former club, the Dragons went knocking on former Newcastle assistant coach David Furner's door.

Furner, who had coached Leeds in 2019 before working as an assistant coach at the Knights last year, was given an interview for the Dragons gig.

This was happening all the while Dean Young, the former assistant coach to Paul McGregor, was building an impressive presentation on why he should be the next Dragons coach.

As we now know, after flopping from this guy to that guy, the Red V hierarchy went with Anthony Griffin.

Anthony Griffin has just two years to prove he is the right man to coach the Dragons. Picture Dragons Media
Anthony Griffin has just two years to prove he is the right man to coach the Dragons. Picture Dragons Media

True to their increasing list of schizophrenic decision-making, the Dragons board praised the appointment of Griffin - only to announce they believed in him that much they were going to give him a two-year contract.

That's this upcoming 2021 season - which is already a "shit show", as Ian Roberts said best - and then next year for Griffin to survive.

So by no later than May next year - which is when every off-contract coach wants an answer on his future - but most likely a whole lot earlier, the Dragons will be back where they started, deciding whether to forge ahead with Griffin or to sever ties and search for a new coach.

And if they do cut ties with Griffin, what will that next coach do with the roster that Griffin has spent the past two seasons overhauling?

We haven't even mentioned that with a new coach comes the expensive process of appointing new coaching staff.

It's without any risk of hysteria to suggest the Dragons are five to six years away from being anything close to a settled playing roster because of one thing: the lack of clear direction and decision-making by the current board, CEO and head of recruitment.

The Dragons are the sad punchline in rugby league’s newest joke. Picture: Brett Costello
The Dragons are the sad punchline in rugby league’s newest joke. Picture: Brett Costello

The Gold Coast has long been the punchline for NRL fans: "Whatever happens, we know our team can't be worse than the Titans … or the Giants … or the Seagulls … or the Chargers.''

That's no longer the case. The Dragons have become such a confused mess of perennial change and indecisiveness, they have become the new joke among footy fans.

It's not funny. It's sad that once a force of the game is a dishevelled mess.

The issues in Wollongong go far beyond their mind-boggling decision last Tuesday to resist putting up a greater fight to keep their captain and - so damn obvious to all - best player over the past two years, Cameron McInnes.

The list of calamities is long, including the brain dead attempt to douse the shock and disappointment from fans over the departure of their skipper to, of all places, arch rivals Cronulla, by spinning out news of their interest in signing 31-year-old Israel Folau.

I'll move on from Folau quickly because way too much about him has already been said. But if I'm a Dragons fan, my stomach is churning that with all the whiz-bang data, GPS intel and statistics available, nobody at the club thought to look at the fact Ken Sio, 30, made more clean breaks in the English Super League in 2020 than the former Wallaby.

So as not to show disrespect to Sio, the former Eels and Knights winger, it's worth noting 33-year-old Shaun Kenny-Dowall also boasts more tackle busts than Folau, who also isn't inside the top 20 players in the UK for average metres-gained, carries or tries.

The loss of a club leader in Tyson Frizell to Newcastle when, outside of McInnes, they have no captain in-waiting, baffles; the decision to carry Jack de Belin on their books into a third season is numbing, as does the signing of Ben Hunt until the end of 2023 for $1.2 million a season.

There's another problem. When questions need to be asked of the Dragons hierarchy, they have a long history of ducking for cover. Even from fans.

Straight answers don't come easy for the Saints.

Although given their recent decisions, that's about the easiest thing to understand.

Originally published as How Dragons became NRL's new joke


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