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Dragons CEO Johnston to stand down

St George Illawarra chief executive Brian Johnston will stand down from the role at the start of the season.

Johnston informed Dragons players before training on Tuesday that he would not be continuing in the post, with the club confirming the news on Tuesday afternoon.

Johnston tendered his resignation to the Dragons board last month but agreed to stay on until the start of the season, which is expected to coincide with the conclusion of forward Jack de Belin's trial.

It is expected that Johnston will continue as a director – a position he held before beginning his second stint as CEO 15 months ago after WIN took a 50 per cent stake in the club.

"The past 12 months as CEO of St George Illawarra has been a challenging yet enjoyable experience," Johnston said. "I have made this decision to focus on my family and the farm back home in Dunedoo.

"I look forward to the next four months overseeing an exciting pre-season following the completion of the club's extremely important football department review."

Johnston previously performed the CEO role from 1996 to 2000 before resigning for health reasons, with his two stints bookending Peter Doust's 18-year tenure as St George Illawarra chief executive.

He returned to the club in 2017 as chairman and negotiated the partial privatisation deal with WIN before later agreeing to take on the CEO's role on a three-year contract.

Much of Johnston's time in the job has been dominated by the de Belin case after the NSW Origin forward was charged with aggravated sexual assault last December. 

Sims: The only way is up

De Belin became the first player subjected to the NRL's no fault stand down policy, introduced in March, and lost a Federal Court challenge to the policy last May.

Johnston is understood to have had to talk players out of boycotting a match against Newcastle in Mudgee after the court decision was handed down.

De Belin's trial will begin on February 3 and Johnston is understood to have advised the Dragons he would remain in the CEO's job until then.

His successor will be tasked with deciding the future of St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor after a disappointing 2019 season.

The Dragons announced changes to the football department last week after a review involving Phil Gould.

Former Cronulla interim coach James Shepherd, who was an assistant to Nathan Brown at Newcastle, will join the club, while Shane Flanagan is expected to be appointed to an assistant's role.

Announcing the coaching changes, Johnston admitted that the 2019 season was not good enough and said he was confident of a rebound next season.

"Everyone at the Dragons were terribly dissatisfied with the club's 2019 season campaign which resulted in this wide-ranging internal and external review of the club's football department," Johnston said.

"The Dragons have made key structural changes to its coaching, performance and medical staff following the determination of a lack of experience within the wider group. This includes several new staff appointments to the football department.

"It was noted throughout the review that there needed to be a greater focus on club culture and leadership. In acknowledging this, the club have taken steps in this space in order to bring further accountability and discipline to the playing group."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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