Skip to main contentSkip to navigation
The St George Illawarra Dragons have sacked coach Anthony Griffin after two and a half seasons in charge.
The St George Illawarra Dragons have sacked coach Anthony Griffin after two and a half seasons in charge. Photograph: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
The St George Illawarra Dragons have sacked coach Anthony Griffin after two and a half seasons in charge. Photograph: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Dragons face significant overhaul if club is to emerge from NRL mediocrity

Nick Tedeschi

Major roster and cultural changes are required after Anthony Griffin’s underwhelming coaching tenure was brought to an end

St George Illawarra have sacked head coach Anthony Griffin after a dire two-and-a-half season tenure. It started with the tepid enthusiasm a recycled coach typically brings and ended with a long march to the inevitable, marked by bizarre selection decisions and mounting losses.

The writing was on the wall for Griffin when the club announced in mid-March that it would undertake an open interview process for the head coaching role in 2024. Griffin would be welcome to reapply for the job – a highly unusual decision to search for a new coach without officially putting a line through the incumbent.

The Dragons opened the season with a home win over the Titans but a second half capitulation against the Broncos a week later saw the dominos begin to fall. In his final nine games, Griffin’s Dragons posted just a single win. Six straight defeats, including a humiliating 42-22 loss to North Queensland in Ben Hunt’s 300th game, proved too much for the Dragons board.

Griffin went 22-36 in his 58 games with St George Illawarra. Under his tutelage, the Dragons finished 11th and 10th and he leaves with the team anchored in 16th spot.

Such a mediocre return continues the underwhelming seven seasons Paul McGregor had at the helm. Recycled coaches – those on their second or later job who have not achieved any premiership success – rarely succeed in turning around the fortunes of a club. History has not been kind to Griffin either, with the Broncos reaching the grand final the year after his four-season run at the Broncos ended and the Panthers reaching three deciders, winning two premierships, in the four years after he was sacked by Penrith.

In his first season in charge, the Dragons had their worst defensive season in their history, conceding 25.67 points per game. Defence is the biggest indicator of success and it did not get notably better with the Dragons conceding 23.7 in 2022 and 25.5 this year.

Culture problems and a lack of player development marked his tenure, leaving the Saints no better off than before his arrival.

The Dragons after the weekend’s defeat to the Cowboys.
The Dragons after the weekend’s defeat to the Cowboys. Photograph: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

In his inaugural season at the helm, 13 players breached NRL biosecurity protocols and NSW state government public health orders by attending a party. A year later only three players attended the club’s presentation night. Only last week one of the club’s highest-paid players, Jack Bird, declared “fans don’t know much about footy”.

Griffin’s recruitment of veterans and an inability to develop young talent has also caused significant angst at the club. From the get-go it was clear he felt more comfortable around more seasoned players, while at the same time exciting fullback Tyrell Sloan spent most of 2022 playing NSW Cup and Jayden Sullivan received precious little time in 2023. Griffin refused to discuss his decision to drop centre Zac Lomax with the player.

The club is not without fault. They have been comparatively absent in their oversight. They have not been particularly modern in their thinking. They have been distant, most recently in the reported failure of any board member or senior executive to attend a function celebrating Hunt’s milestone.

skip past newsletter promotion

The recent history of poor hiring decisions also rests squarely on the shoulders of the Dragons board and front office. And tendencies towards insularity, familiarity and conservatism again seem to be coming to the fore.

Across the last 20 years, the Dragons have had five head coaches. Three were assistants within the club who had also played for the team. One was the recycled Griffin. Wayne Bennett, who delivered the 2010 premiership, was the only real swing-for-the-fences hire. It has become clear over the last two decades that the Dragons prefer to hire those with strong ties to the club without giving much heed to arguably more qualified outsiders.

Jason Ryles is heavily favoured to be offered the role with Dean Young and Ben Hornby the only other two to be seriously linked to the job. All three played 150-plus games for the Red V. The Dragons denied a report that former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika had been in talks while the likes of Des Hasler, Michael Maguire, Geoff Toovey and Shane Flanagan – grand final coaches over the last decade not currently in head coach roles – have not been courted, at least publicly.

The Dragons have been mired in mediocrity since Bennett left the club at the end of the 2011 season. The time afforded Griffin was at best a waste and at worst a setback for the club, which now faces another significant roster overhaul and major cultural change. The most effective way to change the trajectory of a club is to hire a visionary coach who understands the entirety of the role, has learned both from the best and on their own, and who has significant defensive credentials. If the Saints are to change their flight path, the time is now and the blueprint exists. Whether they take advantage is another question entirely.

Most viewed

Most viewed