The Dragons celebrate Ben Hunt's try during the Round 5 NRL match between the St. George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sutherland Sharks at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Sunday, June 14, 2020. (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
The Dragons celebrate Ben Hunt's try during the Round 5 NRL match between the St. George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sutherland Sharks at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Sunday, June 14, 2020. (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Call off the Hunt, McGregor is safe

Now get off my back.

After more than a year of scrutiny, criticism and vitriol, St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has secured at least six days of peace after a shock 30-16 win over Cronulla at Campbelltown Stadium.

Mary is safe, for now.

 

The Dragons claimed their first win of this season and just their third victory in the past 15 matches. It seemed like another lifetime ago since we heard When The Saints Go Marching In echoing around a footy field after a win.

The pressure will remain on McGregor, but for at least a week he can enjoy some silence from agitated fans and NRL media.

St George's last win was back on September 7 - round 25 - last year. That's 281 days ago. The relief for McGregor and St George Illawarra was palpable. Several late positional switches - including Matt Dufty to fullback and Ben Hunt into dummy half - worked a treat for McGregor.

A loss to Gold Coast next Saturday will probably ensure another wave of speculation about McGregor's future but he will no doubt he enjoy a quiet beer on Sunday evening.

 

Dragons centre Zac Lomax throws Will Kennedy of the Sharks into the turf. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
Dragons centre Zac Lomax throws Will Kennedy of the Sharks into the turf. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

 

McGregor - who survived an emergency board meeting last week - has shown considerable resilience in the face of considerable, relentless yet justified condemnation.

"It's always good to win," McGregor said. "The dressing shed is nice and happy. (But) confidence can come and go pretty quickly. We're a proud club and we're not happy with where we are.

"We want to win, there's no doubt about that but the biggest thing for us was improving our game because we've not been happy with how we have been playing. Do we need to improve more? Absolutely.

"It (external speculation) isn't going away, it's always there but I have good self-awareness and I know where my control starts and finishes."

It was midway through the second half before St George Illawarra appeared to secure the self-belief that they could win. Momentum swung through the game but Saints found a way to win.

"And that's the most important thing in rugby league," McGregor said. "To find a way in difficult times to push through the other side - and that's what we did."

It was St George Illawarra's biggest win since round 13 last season and their first victory against a team other than Gold Coast since round 15 last season.

 

Cameron McInnes reaches out to score a try for the Dragons. Picture: AAP Image/Brendon Thorne
Cameron McInnes reaches out to score a try for the Dragons. Picture: AAP Image/Brendon Thorne

 

A try to Saints skipper Cameron McInnes in the 63rd minute - when used as a running forward - sealed an acclaimed victory. Victory was a triumph for Shane Flanagan, the former Cronulla grand final winning coach now an assistant at Saints.

Before Sunday, the Dragons had scored just two points in their past two games. They were a train wreck.

Defeat has left Cronulla reeling. The Sharks have won just one game this season, their finals aspirations crashing and burning in June. Their second half was poor.

"It was certainly disappointing, very disappointing," said Sharks coach John Morris. "The boys are in there hurting at the moment, that's for sure. We gave up some really soft tries. We never looked like the better side today."

Asked did have club support, Morris said: "You'd have to speak with the club but there's been no mention at all to me about my position. I've got a really good bond with the players and staff."

 

Mikaele Ravalawa scored two tries for the Dragons at Campbelltown Stadium. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
Mikaele Ravalawa scored two tries for the Dragons at Campbelltown Stadium. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

 

Saints struggled to shut down the game but somehow held-on, Cronulla having to accept a dubious decision late which could have sent up a thrilling finish.

In a desperate bid to lift his side, McGregor benched Hunt for the start of the game with Corey Norman returning to five-eighth and Dufty to fullback.

Dufty threw a long ball which sent winger Mikaele Ravalawa over for Saints' opening try - it the club's first try in 88 days.

And Dufty then used his speed to post his own try in the 29th minute. He was a handful all match, enjoying two try assists, running for 168 metres and completing seven tackle busts.

It was strange watching the maligned Hunt - a player worth $1m a year - sitting on the sideline to start the match with a black jacket over his lap to keep warm. He came on after 20 minutes at dummy half and made an immediate impact. He scored a try from dummy half right on halftime.

"But he has to go back to halfback," said Immortal, Andrew Johns, on Nine.

Former rep star Trent Merrin started with James Graham coming off the bench. Graham hasn't started as an interchange player since 2016. He played strongly.

"I wasn't happy with the way we have been playing and I'm trying to build the right combinations," McGregor said.

The Dragons scored three first half tries to lead 18-10 at halftime at a bizarre south Sydney derby being played in south-western Sydney.

 

 

Originally published as Call off the Hunt, McGregor is safe


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