The clause that threatens to divide Dragons on coaching saga

The simmering tension between St George and Illawarra directors threatens to the drag out the Dragons' coaching saga as Phil Gould broke his silence on the matter and details emerged of how the club botched the signing of Craig Fitzgibbon.

A decision on whether interim coach Dean Young, Anthony Griffin or David Furner has the job seems unlikely when the joint venture's board meets on Monday to discuss last week's round of interviews.

Opinions vary on how well Anthony Griffin presented when interviewing for the St George Illawarra job.Credit:NRL Photos

“In a meeting with Brian Johnston, Paul McGregor and football manager Ben Haran last year, I told them that unless there were significant changes, I seriously doubted that results would improve, player roster management would only become more difficult, and they were only delaying the inevitable. I gave Ryan my view on what needed to be done for longer-term success.

“He [Webb] did discuss the club’s preferred head coach option going forward. The club was going to pursue this option before considering alternative applicants. It sounded good. It would appear that option is no longer available.

“He mentioned several names as the alternative applicants for the role. He asked for my quick opinion on each, which I provided. However, the focus of his attention was, on pursuing the club’s preferred option.”

The problem for the Dragons is they botched their attempt to sign their preferred option: Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon.

The son of inaugural Illawarra coach Allan Fitzgibbon, the 43-year-old last month knocked back a three-year, $2 million approach from the Dragons.

That approach angered Roosters chairman Nick Politis because it was done behind his back.

Having failed at the first attempt, the Dragons then tried to go through the front door with WIN Corp's board appointee Andrew Lancaster meeting with Politis.

Again, they failed.

Fitzgibbon is contracted to the Roosters next year and has assured Politis and coach Trent Robinson he won’t be asking for a release because he is a “man of his word”.

Dean Young made his pitch to coach the Dragons on a full-time basis.Credit:Getty

It was a waste of time because Fitzgibbon has confided in others that he isn’t interested in joining the Dragons in its current state and is loyal to the Roosters.

One Dragons director who will not be voting on the coaching appointment is former St George captain Craig Young, who is abstaining because he is Dean’s father. He also withdrew from discussions surrounding Paul McGregor’s sacking last month because of their close relationship.

He will instead give his proxy to a fellow St George director.

There are plenty of people both inside and outside the Dragons who believe Dean Young is more than capable of doing the job with the right support.

Standing in his way, it seems, is the failing of others.

There is concern among directors about appointing a former player because they have gone to that well three times and failed: Nathan Brown (2003-08) should have won a premiership with the side assembled for him; Steve Price (2012-14) came and went after inheriting the job from Wayne Bennett; and McGregor (2014-20), who was shown considerable loyalty in his last few years.

Young’s cause wasn’t helped by the round 16 loss to the Titans, but he surprised directors with his maturity and thoroughness during his interview.

While the outside perception is that Young’s appointment would be “more of the same”, the reality is the 36-year-old has been a coach on the rise since his playing retirement in 2012.

He has been earmarked as a head coach of the future for the Dragons. Why have a succession plan if you don't follow it through?

He has been strongly endorsed by Bennett publicly, and internally by assistant Shane Flanagan, and also regularly confides in his father’s former coach, Herald columnist Roy Masters, who remains up to speed with current trends in the game through his relationship with the Melbourne Storm.

Indeed, Young sounded like he was channelling Bennett when he said this of his coaching philosophy: “I value players who compete, I value players that are disciplined and I value players who are consistent. There is no grey in that. It’s black and white for me. You either compete hard or you don't, you are disciplined, or you are not and you are consistent or you are not.”

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