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Not here for a rebuild: Griffin aims for finals berth in centenary year

New coach Anthony Griffin believes the recruitment of two experienced forwards would complete a roster capable of ensuring the Dragons celebrate their 100th season in 2021 with a return to the finals.

Griffin, who will oversee the club’s return to training on November 17, aims to focus on developing the young talent within St George Illawarra’s catchment area but he is looking to replace Test forwards Tyson Frizell and James Graham next season.

Josh McGuire, Joe Ofahengaue and Jack Bird are among the players linked with the Dragons and Griffin said negotiations were happening behind the scenes with rival clubs that he hoped would result in some new recruits arriving in Wollongong before the end of the year.

"It is great to see Josh Kerr get a start in the Origin, that will be good for his confidence, but we also want to bring a couple of experienced people into the club to replace what has gone,"Griffin said.

"Then, it is all about backing our youth and building from within.

Zac Lomax has been named in the 21-man squad for NSW in Origin I.
Zac Lomax has been named in the 21-man squad for NSW in Origin I. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"We have got some great outside backs - young guys like Cody Ramsey and obviously Zac Lomax, who is in the Origin side at the moment - so there will be a bit of a focus on building from within but in the short term we would like to get a couple more experienced forwards into the pack."

The Dragons will next season celebrate the 100th anniversary of St George’s admission to the premiership in 1921 and Griffin said he wanted to make the finals to commemorate the centenary year.

"I think we have got a list that is capable of doing that so we are not here to rebuild or ask for time," Griffin said at the launch of the centenary plans at St George Leagues Club.

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"We need to perform from day one and that will be my responsibility and the players from the time we get together."

Ben Hunt is going to be charged with directing the team around, and Griffin said he was now one of the most experienced playmakers in the NRL following the departures of Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and James Maloney in recent seasons.

Lomax, Ramsey, fullback Matt Dufty, outside backs Max and Mat Feagai, lock Jackson Ford and prop Blake Lawrie are all young talent with potential for improvement, he added.

"Something that I am really passionate about here is just to build something that lasts, something that is resilient and something that is home-grown as much as we can do," Griffin said.

"There is always going to have to be some strategic recruitment but for this club and this brand I think it is important that we try to build as much as we can from within.

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"I think we are starting to see that already with Ramsey, the Feagai twins and Ford, and guys like Dufty and Lomax, who are already established, and Lawrie.

"At the top end, I think Ben Hunt is a genuine playmaker in the game who can get the team to the highest levels.

"Cronk’s gone, Thurston’s gone, Maloney’s gone … there is a lot of good playmakers gone out of the game so it is time for guys like Ben and Cherry-Evans to be the leading playmakers in the competition. I think Ben has got the potential to do that."

Meanwhile, Griffin said listening to former Prime Minister John Howard talk about his lifelong support of the Dragons made him realise the significance of the club's history and the responsibility he has taken on as coach.

The centenary launch was attended by a host of former players, including John Riley, Craig Young, Steve Edge, Ricky Walford, Brad Mackay, Mark Gasnier, Ben Creagh, Ben Hornby, Dean Young and Jason Nightingale.

Key features of the centenary throughout 2021 will include:

  • A centenary book written by respected author and Dragons historian Geoff Armstrong; 
  • Four new additions to be inducted into the "Legend’s Walk" at Kogarah; 
  • A museum to be opened within St George Leagues Club; 
  • The naming of the Dragons Team of the Century.