McGregor: Young guns have to become leaders
As he prepares for his first full year in charge of the Dragons, coach Paul McGregor has called for his younger players to become team leaders.
Pointing out the likes of Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell and even Trent Merrin to a lesser degree, McGregor said it was time for his well-travelled albeit young trio to lift.
The coach said the addition of veterans Heath L'Estrange, George Rose and Kris Keating to St George Illawarra's roster will allow the club's young stars to have a smooth transition towards becoming leaders.
"[Frizell, de Belin and Merrin] have been in the system for long enough now and I think they have to become senior players. As a coach I've got to put confidence into them to become senior players because they've been playing first grade for three or four years now," McGregor told NRL.com.
"Usually after 50 games you know what to expect… so I'd like for them to stand up and be leaders as well alongside the new recruits. It is also good to have that experience there for them to lean on when they need it too though.
"You have to remember that these guys started from a young age and they're still young men in the game, learning how to deal with the game. To bring people in who have played at that elite level and played in grand finals and know how to get through tough situations – it's always good to have them at your club."
The words of the coach resonate with de Belin, a forward utility yet to find a consistent position in his 63-game career, with the 23-year-old realising it's time for him to start firing.
"Everybody wants to put their best foot forward to show how good they are in a sense… so us old boys need to lift to help lift the overall intensity of training and the culture around the joint," de Belin told NRL.com.
"In previous years I haven't necessarily started the year firing. I would come into my own at the back-end of the season. This year Mary said he wants me firing Round 1 and that's definitely something I plan on doing. I'm going to be taking the trials very seriously and I want to be hitting form come Round 1."
While de Belin won't have to worry about any contract dilemmas this year, more than 20 of his teammates are off-contract at the end of 2015.
With plenty of the Dragons' recruits handed one-year contracts and a host of others like Ben Creagh, Lesson Ah Mau and Jason Nightingale looking to remain at the Red V, 2015 is shaping to be a crucial year for the Dragons.
"[We have deployed] a strategy to see how the [new recruits] go in our system and if they enjoy our system well then there's a future here for you and we can extend for longer terms, but if they don't then they get moved on," McGregor said.
"There are a few coming off contract or on one-year contracts so for me as a coach it's important for me to balance that out when the time comes."
While admitting the club needed to make changes after a few sub-par seasons, McGregor said the team was nevertheless aiming to play finals football in 2015.
"I think the first sign of madness is not to make changes when something isn't working – something had to change – and that's what has happened. I haven't done it my way, I've done it the way I thought we needed," McGregor said.
"As a club you don't like to finish out of finals football at all, especially a proud club like the Dragons. At the moment everyone is tipping us to finish 14th or 15th out of the 16 so nobody is giving us a real chance to do much in year one of my coaching.
"But I'm actually looking forward to, and I know the players are looking forward to, that challenge. Our expectation is certainly not everybody else's; we'll be playing to fight for that finals position."