McGregor praises debutant Leilua
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has afforded Dragons debutant Luciano Leilua his approval following a stellar start to his NRL career.
One of very few positives of the Dragons' 12-8 loss to the Brisbane Broncos was Leilua's performance, with the rookie forward punching out 50 minutes for the Red V.
The younger brother of Raiders centre Joey was a constant threat for the Dragons where he clashed with seasoned veterans Ben Hunt and Matt Gillett for the most part.
Leilua's handy line-break assist midway through the second half proved the impetus for Kurt Mann's 52nd-minute effort, where only the wet conditions denied the Dragons winger a spectacular try.
McGregor was as taken aback as most in the immediate aftermath of Leilua's maiden game.
"We didn't expect it, he hasn't done too much work with the main squad. He's been in the 20s system all year," McGregor said.
"He's certainly a footballer. He's a natural footballer, which is great. He's got good skill and he knows how to get around the game which is good because young blokes sometimes use a lot of energy up not doing too much.
"But he knew how to save it and used it in important times."
The Dragons missed half of their forward pack against the Broncos with the usual back row of Joel Thompson and Tyson Frizell as well as prop Leeson Ah Mau all suspended.
Throw in the fact Tim Lafai and Siliva Havili are still under club suspension, Josh Dugan is nursing a broken jaw and co-captain Ben Creagh hasn't been sighted since Round 3, and it becomes understandable where McGregor's frustration has come from of late.
"We look at the team photo from the start of the year on [Wednesday] and we realised we had 12 players missing. It's tough. A couple of guys have left the club but 10 other players weren't available through suspension, injury," McGregor said.
"But I reckon it's a good opportunity for some of these kids to get a game of footy against a very good quality team in Brisbane. They have some world class players across the park.
"Luciano's debut was really pleasing. Our right centre Taane (Milne) keeps improving and young Host played in the middle for 35 minutes straight, so they're all good signs going forward for the club."
The conjecture surrounding Benji Marshall's future was reignited following the Dragons playmaker's horror performance against the Broncos.
Marshall made five errors but McGregor refused to blame individuals for their four-point loss as well as talk player contracts.
"Since November there's been a lot of talk about contracts at the club and it's been a real unstable environment because of that," McGregor said.
"I have two guys in recruitment and retention that work for the club and I'd rather all the questions be posted to them from now on. I've answered questions every media session all year about certain players.
"They know my feelings, the players. So I think now it's time for the recruitment guys to do their job and step up and answer the questions about who's here and who's not here next year.
"My importance is coaching the players I've got that right in front of me right now."