Discussions have begun about extending Paul McGregor’s tenure as St George Illawarra coach beyond the end of this season.
In a show of faith in the coach, NRL.com understands the Dragons have decided to begin negotiations with McGregor before a ball has even been kicked, with some at the club hopeful of finalising a deal before St George Illawarra open their campaign against the Cowboys in Townsville on March 16.
McGregor, who is off contract at the end of this year, was under enormous pressure following his team’s mid-season slump last season but he may have done enough in a gallant run through the finals to secure his future.
While the Dragons believe McGregor is the right man to lead the club beyond 2019, it has been suggested by some at the club that perhaps they should wait eight to 10 weeks into the season before extending his term.
It’s expected McGregor’s contract extension, and the timing of when it is signed, will be a talking point at the club’s next board meeting.
McGregor, who began his NRL coaching career with the Dragons in 2014, will eclipse Nathan Brown as the longest serving coach in the joint venture’s history if he remains at the helm beyond this year.
The former NSW and Australian representative has an impressive record when it comes to the first half of seasons, however the criticism of the Dragons coach has been a tendency for his team to fall away as they approach the pressure-cooker matches heading into the playoffs.
The Dragons won 12 of their first 15 games in 2018, rocketing to premiership favouritism on the back of the newly formed halves combination of Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop.
While the Dragons won just four of their last 11 games, their playoff win over Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium with an injury-ravaged squad was one of the most inspired performances of the Telstra Premiership season.
They lost a cliffhanger the following weekend to Souths but injuries to Widdop and Jack de Belin hampered their chances at winning through to the preliminary final.
Last year wasn’t the only season the Dragons have capitulated after a strong start. They won six of their first seven games in 2017 (finished ninth) and eight of their first 11 games in 2015 (finished 8th).
The Dragons have lost a number of players over the off-season, but the acquisition of Corey Norman and Korbin Sims has them in a strong position to challenge for a premiership in McGregor’s sixth season in charge.
Wests Tigers fullback Moses Mbye suffered a torn PCL in his knee at training last week, raising some concern at the club just a few weeks out from their first trial.
However Mbye is starting to return to full training duties despite the tear. Many athletes are able to play without the posterior cruciate ligament in their body.
At first Mbye thought he suffered a serious cork, but the knee swelled dramatically overnight. He was sent for scans the next day, which showed a rupture of the PCL.
He is expected to be fit to play in the Tigers’ second trial against the Warriors in New Zealand on March 2.
Benji Marshall, who also suffered a minor hamstring tear, is back in training and will also be given the green light when the Tigers cross the ditch for the trial against the Warriors.
It’s understood the battle between Marshall and Josh Reynolds is one of the main positions still up for grabs. New recruit Paul Momirovski has impressed in the pre-season and is set to win the left centre spot to start the year.
Parker back in from the cold
Broncos legend Corey Parker’s brief hiatus from Brisbane is over with the former international invited to return to the fold under new coach Anthony Seibold.
Depending on who you believe, Corey Parker stepped down of his own accord or he was punted by Wayne Bennett after an argument with captain Darius Boyd.
Regardless of the conflicting reports about what went on after Parker’s mid-season departure, it’s hard to deny there were a few relationships that were soured in the record-breaking coach’s last season at Red Hill.
Seibold has moved to try and reunite the club's old boys with the current crop of players, calling in Parker, Justin Hodges and Scott Prince to work with the squad once a week over the pre-season.
Parker will work with the forwards, Prince with the halves and Hodges with the backs.
Ciraldo close to new deal
The in-demand Cameron Ciraldo is about to extend his deal with Penrith. Ciraldo is highly rated by the Panthers and has great relationships with the players, which is why the Panthers are now nutting out a two-year extension to keep him as Ivan Cleary’s assistant beyond 2019.
Ciraldo, who was the main contender alongside John Morris for the Sharks job, was strongly advised by those around him to wait for another head coaching role given the off-field uncertainty surrounding the Sharks.
While on paper he will be a Panther until at least 2021, the club is resigned to the fact he could be gone before then should the right job pop up elsewhere.
Such is the opinion of Cam Murray at South Sydney, the Rabbitohs will move Sam Burgess to the second row in 2019 to accommodate Murray in the starting side.
Bennett has been ultra impressed with Murray, who is expected to start the year in the No.13 jersey. It’s a move that will hopefully prolong Burgess’s career, shifting him to an edge and away from the heavy lifting in the middle.
Murray has a huge future both on and off the field, recently securing an Elite Athletic Scholarship with the Macquarie Foundation. He’s the first rugby league player to ever receive the honour. Among previous scholarship recipients are Wallabies players Ben McCalman and Rob Horne.
In other South Sydney news, general manager of football Shane Richardson has had his contract extended for another three years.
The Rabbitohs have set some lofty goals, now benchmarking themselves against the Sydney Swans rather than any other NRL club as they continue to lead the way off the field among the Sydney clubs.
Flanagan given more time
Former Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has been given an extra week to submit his response to the NRL’s breach notice. Flanagan has been provisionally deregistered, however he is expected to respond to the notice by the end of the week.
Jennings goes extra mile
It’s no secret Parramatta were keen to see the back of Michael Jennings after an underwhelming 2018 campaign. However given his big price tag and the fact his best years appear to now be behind him, very few clubs showed any interest.
After riling the club with his attitude last year, Jennings has returned to pre-season with a renewed outlook. Those at the club believe he realises this is his last chance in the NRL if he doesn’t fire, but also believe the birth of his first child has done wonders for his mindset.
Jennings has been one of the Eels’ most impressive performers in the off-season, turning up for extra sessions at 5.30am three times a week in his bid to resurrect his career.
Jaeman Salmon is expected to be Parramatta's right centre, however he is expected to miss at least one game after he was charged with low range drink-driving last year.
Jackson switch on ice
Canterbury had explored the idea of moving Josh Jackson to lock in 2019, however it appears the club has brought a halt to that experiment.
It was thought moving Jackson to the middle would provide the club with a tougher middle, but also give opportunities to the likes of Corey Harawira-Naera, Rhyse Martin and Raymond Faitala-Mariner in the back row. It appears Jackson is back training on an edge where he’s played most of his career.
Floods setback for new stadium
There were hopes the new Townsville Stadium would be open in time for the start of the 2020 season, however the recent downpour in North Queensland may have massive ramifications on the timeline.
In Sydney during last month’s heavy rain period, the construction of BankWest Stadium in Parramatta was set back by a week. Most of Townsville is now under water, damaging the chances of the Cowboys opening the 2020 season at their new venue. Townsville had also been earmarked as a potential location to host next year’s Indigenous v Maori All Stars game in the pre-season.
Ross future unresolved
Newcastle are still actively trying to move on Nathan Ross from the final two years of his deal.
Ross has been told he is free to move on and is exploring options overseas in union and league. The Knights are understood to be willing to pay a large chunk of his $350,000-a-season salary if he plays elsewhere.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.