Wayne Bennett and Craig Fitzgibbon loom large with Paul McGregor (Dragons) and Dean Pay (Bulldogs) under pressure.
Wayne Bennett and Craig Fitzgibbon loom large with Paul McGregor (Dragons) and Dean Pay (Bulldogs) under pressure.

Kent: The ticking time bomb cursing Dragons, Dogs

South Sydney were somewhere in the midst of the regular coaching carousel they carried out annually some years back when the club, in a fragile bid to improve performances, gave the coach a 12-week deadline.

"That's the end of them," Wayne Bennett said from atop his mount in Brisbane.

Bennett, who certainly seemed sure, was asked why.

"If he has got 12 weeks he'll put all his coaching into those 12 weeks," he said.

"What happens after that doesn't matter, he's saved his job."

It turned out almost exactly that way. Lots of effort went into the next 12 weeks, injured stars were cajoled into playing hurt, enormous effort went into preparation and the Rabbitohs improved enough to save the coach before collapsing in a heap once the deadline passed.

They didn't have the constitution to push it out for the rest of the season.

A similar clock is ticking in the NRL.

Paul McGregor is three games into a two-year contract, as he said after the Dragons' dozy loss to the Warriors on Saturday, and yet already there are reports McGregor has two more games to save his job.

McGregor has not done enough to stem the reports. The first thing a coach wants to see when he is under pressure is enthusiasm.

And Dean Pay's window is even narrower, apparently. Pay has the added insult of knowing the Bulldogs are not in control of their salary cap until next season, when he could already be gone, but already there is speculation he has just one game before the Dogs make a call on next season.

 

Dean Pay appears to be a dead man walking at the Bulldogs. Picture: AAP
Dean Pay appears to be a dead man walking at the Bulldogs. Picture: AAP

If there is good news it is that they play each other on Monday. One will get a win.

Whether it provides the necessary salve is another conversation.

It is unclear whether the Dragons understand the team's troubles to be a short or long term fix.

It could be as simple as an honesty session in the change rooms, or an afternoon at the pub. A circuit breaker to change the temperature inside the team.

Or, if the problem is McGregor himself, as some senior players are already whispering, then only a new coach seems to be the solution.

There are always candidates.

Bennett is the dark horse in the field.

It is understood he has already expressed interest to the club and would willingly leave the Rabbitohs at season's end, where Jason Demetriou has already been confirmed as head coach for 2022, to take the Dragons' job.

 

Rabbitohs head coach Wayne Bennett has a history at the Dragons, and could return. Picture: Getty
Rabbitohs head coach Wayne Bennett has a history at the Dragons, and could return. Picture: Getty

The other strong contender is Roosters' assistant Craig Fitzgibbon. A former Dragon and Steeler, Fitzgibbon as the next head coach in waiting.

From there the field thins.

Shane Flanagan is unlikely to be cleared by the NRL despite reports of a loophole that could see him replace McGregor.

The NRL has refused to say anything more than it would consider a review of Flanagan's suspension only if an application was made but, added, that there is no reason why their position would change from his two-year ban as a head coach.

McGregor's problem is not Pay's problem.

The Bulldogs are being outclassed... but the effort remains. Picture: AAP
The Bulldogs are being outclassed... but the effort remains. Picture: AAP

The Bulldogs compete hard for Pay but lack any kind of attacking threat. For now, they struggle to score enough points to put themselves in the contest.

They have scored two, 16 and six points in their three games this season. They averaged just 13 points a game last season.

Unless the Bulldogs can find a way to manufacture more points, simple mathematics make every game a dogfight.

It is too much over the duration of a season.

McGregor would murder for a little of the Bulldogs' enthusiasm in his team right now.

Blame the halves, the lack of impact up front, whatever, the Dragons are listless and McGregor can make as many changes as he likes but, until his team finds their enthusiasm, they whistle in the wind.

 

Former Dragon and Steeler Craig Fitzgibbon is a potential candidate to replace McGregor. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Former Dragon and Steeler Craig Fitzgibbon is a potential candidate to replace McGregor. Picture: Gregg Porteous

McGregor responded by shifting Corey Norman to fullback and promoting Adam Clune to halback, with Matt Dufty dropped to 19th man.

Perhaps the greatest insult for the Dragons came in an opposed session before the Warriors' loss.

Against the Dragons' B-side they were outplayed.

And it happened with suspended middle Jack de Belin and Clune playing in the halves.

It raises another problem for the Dragons, one which might go to the heart of it all.

De Belin is at training every day, buffed and ready to perform, but can do no more than run against his teammates as he stays suspended on the sideline until his court appearance.

 

Jack de Belin still cuts an imposing figure at Dragons training. Picture: Brett Costello
Jack de Belin still cuts an imposing figure at Dragons training. Picture: Brett Costello

The Dragons refuse to send him home, making a case for his mental welfare.

His daily reminders have not been good for the Dragons' mental welfare, though.

They refuse to lay blame, or even comment, but there is no doubt he is a constant, daily reminder they cannot be at their best.

Perhaps De Belin should make the decision himself to stay home.

If it is not enough that his presence is a daily reminder of what his teammates have been forced to go without, now he embarrasses them at training.

Originally published as Kent: The ticking time bomb cursing Dragons, Dogs