Dragons plan to cope with Origin and Test demands
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor is planning to rest his stars during the mid-year representative period, with the Dragons facing the prospect of having up to six players on State of Origin duty and Gareth Widdop and James Graham playing for England in the Denver Test.
Whereas some coaches view representative football as a disruption to their team’s premiership campaign, McGregor was always keen to play for NSW and Australia and wants his players to have similar aspirations.
After winning their opening five matches, the Dragons players have not only put themselves in Origin contention but given McGregor an opportunity to consider resting the likes of Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin, Cameron McInnes and Euan Aitken if they are selected.
With Widdop and Graham only due to return from the United States two days before St George Illawarra’s match against Parramatta, McGregor may rest them as well but he has no objection to them playing for England in the Denver Test on June 23.
"The more wins you get early in the year, you are then able to rest players at the right time," McGregor said leading into Friday night’s match against Cronulla at WIN Stadium.
"Melbourne has been doing it for years, and that is important to finish strong.
"As a player, I always wanted to play rep footy and I was lucky and fortunate to do that. As a coach, I like to see my players rewarded for consistency and if they are consistent I will support that.
"Then we will put some protocols in place where we can to makes sure we can freshen them up a bit."
Hunt seems certain for Queensland selection, as halfback or interchange utility, while Frizell could be joined in the NSW pack by Vaughan and de Belin. McInnes has been touted as the Blues hooker and Aitken at right centre.
McGregor isn't concerned about his players publicly declaring their desire to play Origin and believes NSW coach Brad Fittler will choose at least some of them if they continue their early-season form.
"I think any player if they are honest will say ‘I want to play Origin’, that is a player backing his belief in himself and I love that," McGregor said.
"If a player comes out and puts it on the line that means he has got to go out there and play on a weekly basis.
"I feel that if they are consistent from now until round 12, like they have done in the first five weeks, there is no doubt they will put themselves in the picture.
"Freddy has already said he wants change, but he will only have change if it is warranted around positions. There are current Australian players that some of those guys will have to oust and to replace a player of that level you have to be consistently good."
McGregor said Dragons head of athletic performance Nathan Pickworth plan to work with the England and New Zealand medical staff to ensure provisions were put in place to assist the recovery of Widdop, Graham, and possibly Kiwis winger Jason Nightingale.
"For international players who aren’t fortunate enough to be a Queenslander or New South Welshman that is their Origin period and they want to play it,” he said.
“My only concern about anything around rep football is the welfare of the players. If it goes ahead and our players get selected, the welfare of the players will be at the forefront of my thoughts and if we can do anything possible to help them out in any way we will."