Dragons Football & Recruitment Update

The St George Illawarra Dragons would like to update all Red V Members and supporters on the ongoing football review presently being undertaken.

The Dragons have reached an agreement with former NSW Country Origin player Ciriaco Mescia for the role of Head of Strength and Conditioning for the next two seasons.

The appointment is a key element of the Club’s Performance Department with Mescia, a former Western Suburbs Magpie and Wests Tigers first-grade player (1994-2001), arriving following previous high performance roles with the Parramatta Eels, Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers respectively.

Other positions within the Performance Department are still to be finalised with Andrew Gray (Performance Director), Scott Campbell (NRL Strength and Conditioning Coach) and Rob Leslie (Athletic Development Coach) all moving on from the Dragons.

In relation to recruitment, Dragons Director of Recruitment and Retention Peter Mulholland began work this week, earlier than originally planned, and has begun working on the planning of the Dragons roster and salary cap for 2015 and beyond.

Mulholland directs the recruitment team which includes the Recruitment Manager Ben Haran and a network of Recruitment Officers across Australia and overseas and he interfaces directly with Head Coach Paul McGregor.

Furthermore, the Club acknowledges that while there has been media speculation in relation to the Club Salary Cap for 2015 and beyond it reaffirms that it is just that, speculation.

The Club can confirm that there was originally never a plan for much change to the roster in the 2015 season following the heavy recruitment drive in 2013 for the 2014 season and beyond which was amongst the largest turnover of players in the Club’s history.

Additionally, many of these players were locked into multi-year deals on escalating money.

However, following Paul McGregor’s appointment to the role of Head Coach for 2015 and beyond and the completion of the Dragons NRL season, McGregor has made no secret of his desire to change the balance of the roster.

This has created some complexities when coupled in with some unexpected bonus payments to players who played more NRL games than expected in 2014, together with a proposed reversal of plans with respect to a player who mid-season was granted a release on compassionate grounds for the remaining years of his contract that enabled the Club to sign Benji Marshall mid-season.

Yet, these circumstances are not something that is unusual to the Club, it is not the first off-season that the Dragons have been in a situation like this – it is something that most Clubs, especially those with new Head Coaches, are actively working through at this time of the year.

The salary cap is managed over a three-to-four year period which is particularly so for a Club like the Dragons, who aims to develop and bring through the ranks as many juniors as they can, many of whom will be ready and looking for places in the NRL squad in the not too distant future.

Jack Bird is one such talent that the Club worked with for many months to extend his contract but the player wanted a fresh start and a new challenge in life, it was not so much a decision based around finances and the Club understands these things sometimes happen.

The Club however has to date this year re-signed eight of our successful NYC Squad: Drew Hutchinson (NSW U20); Jacob Host (Australian Schoolboy, NSW U18); Luciano Leilua (Australian Schoolboy, NSW U18); Hame Sele (Australian Schoolboy, NSW U18); Matt Dufty (NSW U18); Addin Fonua-Blake, Izaac Thompson and Jack Kavanagh.

The long-term management of the salary cap is important, however it can throw up some anomalies from time-to-time due to long-term injuries, unplanned events or opportunities.

The Club has a real desire to see Trent Merrin and Brett Morris, both of whom are respectively under contract for 2015, remain one-Club players and is working through the process to try and make this happen.

This process though has presented some issues because both players are seeking upgrades for 2015 and have high salary expectations for 2016 and beyond.

The Dragons acknowledge that whilst Red V Members, supporters and all involved would like information known and finalised as soon as possible in relation to specific individuals and the squad in general.

However, such processes and negotiations are complex and intricate and not as straightforward and simple as some might expect and the only absolute timeframe for the finalised squad and salary cap is Round 1, 2015.

The Club reiterates that all scenarios need to be considered in the context of the entire NRL squad and developing talent in our system over a multi-year period.

The Club also recognises that the player market is at an all-time high, especially after some high profile and public negotiations across the game in 2014, and every individual decision in relation to the salary cap can create a domino effect.

The Football review is ongoing and the Club will provide updates once further elements are known and finalised.