Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
The Dragons have sacked their coach Steve Price, effective immediately, with NSW assistant coach Paul McGregor to take the reins for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Price had been under immense pressure over the past month as the side slumped to six losses from their past seven games, a demoralising run which came after the Dragons had taken a surprise position at the top of the NRL ladder with three consecutive wins to start the season.
Dragons CEO Peter Doust confirmed the Dragons' dismal recent form had cost 37-year-old Price his job after a tumultuous two and a half years at the helm of one of the game's most scrutinised clubs.
"Unfortunately team performance and results have not met the required standards, particularly this season, despite a refresh of performance management strategies and structure, at the end of last year, and a significant change to the playing roster," said Doust.
Dragons players were informed of Price's axing early Monday morning, with new caretaker coach McGregor leaving NSW's pre-Origin camp to join the players in Wollongong, though he will return to the Blues' fold in time for Game One at Suncorp Stadium on Wedensday.
"This is a difficult situation for me," said McGregor, who coached the club's NSW Cup team Illawarra Cutters before joining Price's staff as an assistant this year.
"Steve Price is a good friend of mine and we have worked closely together and I would have liked us to work through these tough times as one.
"This change will be a new challenge for the players to face but we have a good football team and good group of men."
First up on McGregor's agenda will be tightening up the once-feared Red V defence, which has conceded a whopping 108 points in its past three losses to the Eels, Bulldogs and Roosters to leave the club with the second worst defence in the competition.
Speculation over who will be the Dragons' long-term coach for 2015 is set to explode, with the likes of Tim Sheens, Neil Henry, current NSW mentor Laurie Daley and the man Price replaced in 2012, Wayne Bennett, all potential candidates to fill one of the most prestigious coaching seats in the NRL.
A return to the Dragons for Bennett, who delivered the famous club its first premiership in 2010 before departing for the Knights in 2012, could well be on the cards given the recent ownership drama that has engulfed Newcastle and cast doubt over whether Bennett will see out the final year of his deal with the club.
With a number of players, including in-demand Melbourne back-rower Kevin Proctor and Canberra's Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, rumoured to be on the Dragons' radar, it is unclear what the change in the club's clipboard carrier will mean for its recruitment policy.
Price becomes the first coach to depart the joint-venture club mid-season since inaugural coach David Waite was sacked in 2000. He leaves with a win percentage of just 37.9 per cent since taking over from Bennett two and half years ago.
Price said he was thankful for the opportunity he had received from the Dragons.
"I am grateful for the opportunities that the Dragons have provided me over all my years associated with the club and would like to thank all involved,” said Price.
"I’d like to wish Paul and the playing group all the very best."
The former Dragons' five-eighth had his contract extended at halftime during last year's Anzac Day clash against the Roosters, which his charges went on to lose 34-10 before finishing the season in 14th, the worst season in the club's 16-year history.