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Dragons try meditation in bid to improve mental toughness

St George Illawarra players have turned to kelee meditation practised by surfing champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore to help improve the team's mental toughness.

The Dragons finished 15th after a disastrous 2019 campaign marred by a huge injury toll and the uncertainty over the future of star forward Jack de Belin but players admit there can be no excuses next season. 

An end-of-season review resulted in eight changes to the coaching and training staff, including the appointment of 2016 Cronulla premiership-winning mentor Shane Flanagan as an assistant to Paul McGregor.

Flanagan is due to officially start with the Dragons next week after completing a 12-month NRL-imposed ban, which precludes him from taking on a head coaching role for a further two years.

The Dragons have also engaged Gerard Murphy of Leadership by Design to aid a clearer focus in culture and leadership and mind and performance coach Matt Griggs.

Murphy has worked with the likes of West Ham, the Great Britain Olympic team, England rugby league and rugby union sides and AFL clubs Geelong, Richmond and Port Adelaide, while Griggs has been involved with world champion surfers Mick Fanning, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore.

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A former professional surfer, Griggs teaches a five-point holistic high performance model, and is also facilitating lessons on Kelee meditation for St George Illawarra players.

Griggs uses meditation to inspire greater self-awareness and detachment of mental limitations that steal energy and compromise performance.

Dragons centre Tim Lafai said mental lapses during games had cost the team dearly last season and was an area they were working to improve. 

"I think we will be doing a lot of work on that, not just the physical side of things but the mental side of things on and off the field, through workshops and culture groups and things like that," Lafai said.

"You can see already just the maturity of the young boys, they are really eager and the older blokes are leading by example."

With the likes of Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan, Ben Hunt, Corey Norman, Tariq and Korbin Sims, Cameron McInnes and James Graham in their squad, the Dragons have been widely criticised for their performances last season.

In many games, they either started well and fell away and came from behind in the second half but lacked consistency over 80 minutes and across the season.

"That is a question we were all asking ourselves," Lafai said.

"We have got the squad and the depth so it is just a matter of fixing the things that we need to bring out the best in each player because individually we have got some great players.

"I think a lot of it in those games was to do with our mentality and our toughness.

"You could see in a lot of our games we would start poorly and then in the second half we would start so well – there is just a gap there and I think it has just got to do with our mental approach and just the toughness of staying in those games."

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