Phil Gould will begin a review of St George Illawarra football operations next week after being approached by Dragons coach Paul McGregor.
Gould, NSW’s most successful State of Origin coach and a two-time premiership-winning mentor with Canterbury and Penrith, has more than 30 years experience as a coach, administrator and commentator and is considered one of the most knowledgeable people in the game.
He was a guest at the annual Illawarra Rugby League luncheon in Wollongong, which was a roast in honour of McGregor and attended by many of his former team-mates and coaches.
McGregor later asked Gould to help out with St George Illawarra’s annual review of football operations and offer an outsider’s perspective on areas he and the club can improve.
After confirming his interest to Dragons CEO Brian Johnston, Gould will be involved with the review once the team’s season officially ends after Saturday’s match against Gold Coast at Cbus Super Stadium.
“Paul McGregor asked me a couple of weeks ago if I could provide an external set of eyes and ears over the Dragons' end-of-year review process,” Gould said. “I spoke with Brian Johnston this week. Brian, Paul and I will meet again next week after the Dragons' final game.”
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While the specific details of Gould’s role are unclear, it is not expected that the review will lead to him taking on a permanent role with St George Illawarra.
Gould has previously been involved in end-of-season reviews at other clubs, most notably at North Queensland where he recommended to the Cowboys in 2010 that Neil Henry should remain as coach and Johnathan Thurston as captain.
“The end-of-year review process, conducted by every NRL club every year, represents part of the process of future planning,” Gould said.
“I’m happy to lend a hand. It's not a paid job. Every year, even during my time at Panthers, I get NRL coaches, assistant coaches, chairmen, CEOs and even players requesting to catch up and have a cup of coffee to talk about life, their football clubs and their careers. I've always been more than happy to help if I can.
“I’m looking forward to speaking with the Dragons club next week.”
Johnston said that while the club undertakes a review at the end of every year, it will have added significance this season given St George Illawarra’s disappointing 2019 campaign.
"Nobody at the club is happy with how the Dragons have performed and that's extended to all our stakeholders including members and supporters," Johnston said.
"We are committed to reviewing all aspects of our football department to ensure improvement in 2020."
There is no suggestion that McGregor’s job is under threat, and he is expected to commence his new two-year contract in 2020, but changes to the club’s coaching staff have been predicted.
A series of changes were made after the 2016 review overseen by a panel comprising former Dragons skipper Mark Coyne, sport scientist Dr Craig Duncan and performance specialists Dirk Melton and Clare Prideaux.
Among their recommendations was that McGregor leave recruitment decisions to St George Illawarra head of pathways Ian Millward so he could focus solely on coaching and the Dragons fell one win short of a finals berth in 2017 before finishing seventh last season after leading the premiership for 18 rounds.
Without the services of key forward Jack de Belin for the entire season due to the ARLC’s no-fault stand-down policy and captain Gareth Widdop for most of it after a shoulder injury, the Dragons have struggled and will finish 15th regardless of the result of Saturday’s match against Gold Coast.
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Tyson Frizell (ruptured testicle), James Graham (broken leg), Korbin Sims (broken arm), Corey Norman (fractured cheekbone), Tim Lafai (ankle), Zac Lomax (broken thumb) and Jeremy Latimore (knee) have also spent extended time on the sidelines.
Once the team was no longer in finals reckoning, Tariq Sims underwent surgery for a groin injury he had battled since round three and rookie winger Jason Saab had shoulder surgery, while hooker Cameron McInnes broke his leg in last weekend’s loss to Wests Tigers.
Besides the loss of Widdop (Warrington) and Jeremy Latimore (retiring), the Dragons roster will be largely unchanged in 2020, with the likes of Saab, Tristan Sailor and Jackson Ford expected to feature more regularly in the top team after making their debuts this season.
The club’s Canterbury Cup team are minor premiers and their under-20s are also in the finals of their NSWRL competition.