The St George Illawarra Dragons have announced several key structural and personnel changes following the completion of the club's annual football department review.
A review of the Dragons' football department is commonplace at the completion of every NRL season. This year's review took on additional implications to ensure the club's unacceptable 15th place finish in 2019 wouldn't be repeated moving forward.
All aspects of the Dragons' football department were examined throughout this comprehensive internal and external review process. Experienced rugby league administrator and coach Phil Gould was involved with the review as an external consultant.
Dragons CEO Brian Johnston welcomed the conclusion of the extensive review and the consequential changes that have followed.
"Everyone at the Dragons were terribly dissatisfied with the club's 2019 season campaign which resulted in this wide-ranging internal and external review of the club's football department," Johnston said.
"The Dragons have made key structural changes to its coaching, performance and medical staff following the determination of a lack of experience within the wider group. This includes several new staff appointments to the football department.
"It was noted throughout the review that there needed to be a greater focus on club culture and leadership. In acknowledging this, the club have taken steps in this space in order to bring further accountability and discipline to the playing group.
"The Dragons are also in the process of renovating its facilities at WIN Stadium. This is for the benefit of not only the players but the staff situated in Wollongong as well.
"All of our stakeholders, including our partners, members and supporters can rest assured that the Dragons have not taken this process lightly and look forward to greater success in our upcoming campaign and beyond."
Former premiership-winning Sharks and Knights assistant coach James Shepherd will join Paul McGregor's coaching staff in 2020 following Ben Hornby and Mick Crawley's departures. One vacancy remains on the coaching staff. The Dragons are taking due diligence with this process and will finalise this appointment at a later date.
Adrian Jimenez will join the Dragons from the Parramatta Eels in 2020, replacing Alex Clarke as the NRL strength and conditioning coach. Jimenez previously spent 11 seasons with the Melbourne Storm and has also worked at the Penrith Panthers and with the New Zealand Test team.
Steve Dean has been promoted to lead NRL physiotherapist while former Sharks junior representative physio Davis Theobald will join the club as the rehab physiotherapist. New South Wales State of Origin head physiotherapist Dan Lawson will also re-join the Dragons on a part-time basis.
The Dragons have engaged Gerard Murphy of Leadership by Design to aid a clearer focus in the culture and leadership space. Murphy has worked in performance and team dynamics over the past two decades with AFL clubs Geelong, Richmond and Port Adelaide, both England rugby league and rugby union Test teams, the Great Britain Olympic team and English Premier League's West Ham United. Murphy's experience extends to the corporate world having previously worked with Caterpillar, Rip Curl, Nissan, Deloitte and Bunnings.
Further to this, mind and performance coach Matt Griggs – a former professional surfer who has worked alongside surfing world champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore – will facilitate lessons on meditation, among other things.
In confirming the Dragons' fresh approach ahead of 2020, the club have upgraded its Wollongong office facilities, with renovations and enhancements to the NRL change room and gym also underway.
The Dragons have currently signed 24 players in their Top 30 ahead of the 2020 Telstra Premiership season, the minimum quota required by November 1. The club remains in negotiations with a number of players for the final six spots within the squad. The Dragons are also close to finalising its development player squad.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor has endorsed the findings and outcomes of the football department review and is optimistic of a brighter 2020 season.
"Our performances throughout the 2019 season were not demonstrative of this proud club, given also the successful season we produced 12 months prior," McGregor said.
"There are plenty of positives that have come from the review. We accept we didn't play to our potential as a team last season. The review has also provided everyone involved a chance to reflect and learn from the hardships of 2019.
"The amount of change implemented across the football department hasn't occurred for a very long time and will provide a positive new approach to the 2020 season.
"I look forward to overseeing a collective rejuvenation of our on-field structures; this will be indicative of the football department changes as well as further involvement from the playing group."
The Dragons will commence pre-season training ahead of the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership season next week.