Cameron McInnes has revealed his involvement in St George Illawarra’s recruitment of Issac Luke and wants the former Kiwis hooker to challenge him for the dummy-half role.
With Reece Robson moving to North Queensland in search of regular NRL game time, Dragons coach Paul McGregor felt the club needed an experienced back-up to McInnes and asked his opinion of Luke.
Having played with the New Zealand veteran at South Sydney, he had no hesitation in suggesting the Dragons sign Luke and he then spoke to the 32-year-old about the virtues of playing for the famous club and living in Wollongong.
"Mary came to me and said he wanted ask me out of respect, which he didn’t have to do … he said ‘what do you think about Issac," McInnes said.
"I said he is obviously a great player, he is looking for an opportunity and he is a real good person to have around. He is very experienced and I think he will suit us very well so I endorsed him 100 per cent.
"I talked to Issac and he was keen to come over, move to Wollongong and play with the Dragons so I was behind it 100 per cent."
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The recommendation was repayment for the way Luke supported a nervous McInnes when he came into first grade at Souths as an 18-year-old in 2014.
Luke was arguably one of the top two hookers in the game, along with Cameron Smith, and he took it upon himself to mentor McInnes for the next two seasons.
The pair have remained in regular contact during the four years Luke played for the Warriors.
"I had been watching him for years but he didn’t see me as a threat," McInnes recalled.
"That is a big thing because when young guys come in, particularly in your position, you can either look at it like ‘this young guy wants my spot, I am not going to give him anything’ or you can help them out because you were there once and make them feel comfortable.
"He took me under his wing but he also pushed me as well to become a better player because I was always snapping at his ankles and we are going to do that here."
McInnes, who suffered a broken leg late last season, is back running and he expects to be cleared for full contact training with three weeks to prepare for St George Illawarra’s pre-season matches.
The Dragons also have Fiji hooker Joe Lovodua in their NRL squad but he is yet to play first grade and Luke was willing to come for little more than minimum wage and an opportunity to continue playing.
"I think Joey is a very good player but he hasn’t played first grade yet and I got injured last year so if I get injured again we will need someone who is going to step in and who better than someone who has played for New Zealand," McInnes said.
"I don’t know if we are both going to be playing or if one of us will change spots at certain times.
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"If I have to go to lock or there is some other role I can do for the team to get him out there if he is going to help us I will do that. I don’t care, we came 15th last year so I just want to win."
The departure of Gareth Widdop to Warrington has left McGregor with the task of appointing a new captain for next season and after taking on the role this year when the England playmaker was injured, McInnes heads his shortlist of options.
Veteran prop James Graham and second-rower Tyson Frizell are the other two candidates but don't play 80 minutes as regularly as McInnes, who was St George Illawarra's 2019 player-of-the-year.
"If I get the opportunity I'd love it," McInnes said.
"Captain is an honour and you get the privilege of leading the side out, but it's everybody doing their bit as well. But it would be a great honour, that's for sure."