St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor is prepared to rest his representative stars from the club’s next match just four days after State of Origin II in a bid to ensure they don’t fade towards the end of the season.
After regaining the outright lead of the Telstra Premiership after 15 rounds, the only obstacle to a top four finish for the Dragons would appear to be the impact of so many players in the representative teams to be named over the weekend.
Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan were in the NSW team which won the opening Holden State of Origin match in Melbourne and Ben Hunt played halfback for Queensland, while Tariq Sims was 19th man for the Blues.
All five could feature in Origin II at ANZ Stadium on June 24, while Gareth Widdop and James Graham will play for England just hours earlier in the Denver Test against New Zealand, whose team may include Leeson Ah Mau and Jason Nightingale.
The Dragons players are scheduled to play again on Thursday, June 28 against Parramatta but McGregor indicated that some - if not all - would be rested.
“The boys have got an important game to play for their countries, that is important to them, and obviously, we have State of Origin,” McGregor said.
“We will just re-assess things after those games as we have only got four days going into Parramatta.
Match highlights: Dragons v Sea Eagles – Round 15, 2018
“If I do play the Origin guys against Parramatta that would be four games in 21 days for those players and I put the welfare of my players first before anything so that is the most important thing.
“The players will always want to play the next game so sometimes you have got to take that out of their control a little bit and be more on what is needed for the club.”
The 32-8 win over Manly at WIN Stadium on Saturday night has afforded McGregor the luxury of considering a rest for his stars as St George Illawarra now have a two point lead from Penrith, South Sydney and the Warriors.
“It’s a bit like Melbourne in the past, they have been in the position to rest guys at important stages because they were so high on the ladder every year so it does give you a little bit of scope to look at the back of the year,” McGregor said.
“We have got a purpose within our squad of what we want to do and that is to give ourselves every chance at the back end of the year and finish as high as we can so that is another game on that journey. To stay two points clear is really good.”
McGregor said he had no concerns about his players playing representative football and would make a decision on whether they play against the Eels after that.
“I am a person who backs my players to play representative footy,” he said. “As a young guy you try to play at the highest level and the highest level is for your country or your state, and then make sure they do the best prior to that for their club and after that for their club.
“I won’t be hiding under the doona or anything like that, I will be wishing them all the best for their games."