By Rachael Price
St George Illawarra Dragons Head Coach Paul McGregor is aware of how arduous pre-season training can be for players but has been impressed with what he has witnessed from his squad.
McGregor believes he knows what the players want to get out of training and knows they are reveling in the physical preparation for next season.
The Head Coach is additionally eager to see how his players perform in the coming season, particularly Benji Marshall and his developing combination alongside Gareth Widdop.
“Preseason is hard, we’re preparing for next season but I see the enjoyment from the players and they’re enjoying each other’s’ time,” said McGregor.
“It’s something that has to be done and we want to get the most out of it but we want everyone to get through it unscathed.
“I don’t think any player can really enjoy preseason, but you can get bearable ones and I think it’s important for the guys to understand what I need and for me to understand what they want.
“Just doing fitness drills isn’t enough and isn’t what a player needs; knowing this group and catering to their football specific wants will help them when they’re heading into the new season.
“I think there needed to be a shake-up here at the Dragons; there’s a reason we didn’t make the finals for three years and we’re committed to changing that.
“Joel Thompson at the back end of the year was outstanding and as a back rower I think he’ll grow into an even better player with another preseason under his belt.
“Gareth had a breakout year from Melbourne and Benji came to us halfway through the year, so it will be interesting to see how his form improves with a preseason with us.
“Benji Marshall is a totally different athlete than he was when he joined us; he came back with very minimal football but he finished the season in a very good position.
“At the end of the year he was starting to flourish but unfortunately we didn’t make the finals so he didn’t get the chance to really showcase his talent.
“He’s tackling preseason like a youngster but he knows he’s not as young as some of the others and he’s really showing leadership qualities.
“He has an array of skills that he can utilise and shape how we play and how Gareth Widdop plays out on the field.”
Paul McGregor is already scouting for players to fill positions when the 2015 season begins and is excited to see the options available to him for the fullback position, including Josh Dugan.
“We have a couple of options for fullback; obviously Josh Dugan is one of them, he’s doing a fair bit of work out there at training,” said McGregor.
“The other options for that position are Peter Mata’Utia – he has very good ball skills and he is very handy at left-centre – and Adam Quinlan.
“We’re trying to find the optimal player for each position so at training we’re making it so no one is locked into a play or an edge, this is so we can keep it mixed.
“We’ve had a case where we couldn’t use a centre because he could only play on one edge and it’s hard to find the best player when they can only play in one spot.
“When it comes down to ball work Josh is doing a fair bit of it along with the other guys, but the main element that I like to see is that they can also play both edges of the field and Josh is the only player who can do that.
“Peter Mata’Utia, Dylan Farrell, Charly Runciman and Dane Nielsen are players who can also play on both edges and at fullback, so when it comes to trials it’ll be a shootout of who plays the best.
“Last season we had a different three in the centres and at fullback; with Morris and Nightingale brining the ball back we didn’t really need a big number bringing it back.
“It was important to play Josh Dugan where we needed him and last season that was on the right edge where he performed outstanding in defence and had a combination with Benji that was quite string toward the end of the season.
“I have a team first mindset and that combination was what worked best for the team last season.”