New Dragons assistant coach Shane Flanagan believes being forced to miss last season will only make him stronger after talking to Wests Tigers mentor Michael Maguire about successfully returning to the game.
Fronting the media in St George Illawarra colours for the first time on Thursday, the premiership-winning ex-Sharks mentor reiterated that he is happy to play second-fiddle to head coach Paul McGregor, who he commended for putting the club's interests first in appointing him.
Flanagan is adamant his time away from the game due to being suspended will prove beneficial. Maguire, who fell just short of the finals, and Manly coach Des Hasler, whose team reached the second week of the playoffs, didn't skip a beat in their comebacks last year.
"I spoke to Michael Maguire about it. He won a competition [in 2014] and then spent [a year] out of the game," Flanagan said, referring to Maguire missing the 2018 season after parting ways with South Sydney.
"It gave him a good opportunity to freshen up ... Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer not to have had what's happened and have a break.
"But it has happened and I've freshened up, looked at it from another angle and I've got an opportunity now at a different club to learn different structures and systems and I'm looking forward to that."
Five key match-ups of the Dragons' 2020 draw
While he wants to land another head coaching gig down the track if the NRL permits it, Flanagan said in the meantime it will be nice not to have the "24/7" commitments the top job entails.
Flanagan also defended McGregor, who is facing intense scrutiny after last year's shambolic 15th-place finish.
"From what I've seen it's probably been a little bit unwarranted, he's working really hard ... He's put his hand up and said, 'I need help, I want help'," Flanagan said.
"In the end it's about winning footy games and hopefully this year is a lot easier than it was last year for him."
The 54-year-old said strengthening the Dragons' defence after they leaked the second most points in the league last season was one of his main objectives.
Cronulla were renowned for their tenacity and grit under Flanagan's watch and he intends to ingrain the same aggressive defensive mentality into the Red V.
Meanwhile, the Dragons have announced they will join forces with NBL team Illawarra Hawks and NPL outfit Wollongong Wolves for a bushfire appeal golf day on Monday, February 3.
The club will also visit the Shoalhaven region, Batemans Bay, Narooma, Moruya and surrounding areas on January 28 and 29 for an open training session and to get amongst those doing it tough, while centre Euan Aitken is auctioning off a signed Anzac Day jersey.
"I know a few other players have asked the question to the club, could they get money taken directly out of their pay, and they're going to put towards [the cause] as well," McGregor said.
"For us three codes [rugby league, basketball, soccer] and brands to get together and really push an important fundraising opportunity, to go and get out in the community and use our profiles for something very positive, is extremely important to this club."