St George's Matt Dufty celebrates scoring a try with St George's Gareth Widdop during the St George v Bulldogs rugby league match at ANZ Stadium, Homebush. Picture: Brett Costello
St George's Matt Dufty celebrates scoring a try with St George's Gareth Widdop during the St George v Bulldogs rugby league match at ANZ Stadium, Homebush. Picture: Brett Costello

Dragons spine not set in stone

Paul McGregor still has not decided if it will be Corey Norman or Gareth Widdop partnering Ben Hunt in the St George Illawarra halves this year, or who will be switching to fullback.

But rather than see it as a problem he needs to solve ASAP, McGregor plans to use it as his X-factor in 2019.

There is no doubt when Widdop suffered his shoulder injury late last year the Dragons' title charge took a massive hit.

But that is exactly why McGregor has used the weeks since Norman's arrival to train every member of his spine in different positions.

"Without a doubt, it has been a problem for me the last three years," McGregor said.

"When Gareth has been injured at different stages, which he has been injured nearly every year, we just haven't had the quality of depth to cover that, or the experience.

Corey Norman will get his chance for the Dragons.
Corey Norman will get his chance for the Dragons.

"But the beauty of what I have now is that collectively they all might be on the field at the same time.

"We have been fortunate enough to train for the unexpected, or the expected you could say, that comes during the season.

"We have real quality and depth in all positions and experience and versatility to interchange between positions in games. That is the truth of it."

It has seen Norman and Widdop switch between five-eighth and fullback while also teaming up in the halves, allowing Hunt to train at hooker and Cameron McInnes at lock.

McGregor said he had also not ruled out keeping Matt Dufty in his top 17, or potentially starting him.

"He is definitely a part of what we need in 2019 and beyond," McGregor said.

This season will be Widdop’s last in the NRL. Picture by Brett Costello.
This season will be Widdop’s last in the NRL. Picture by Brett Costello.

"I have already spoken to Duff that we want him as a longterm player.

"I am off contract this year so that is not entirely my decision.

"But I genuinely want Matt if I am coach going forward at the club beyond '19.

"They are all getting their fair share of time and I want to have a look at them in the trials.

"We are four weeks away from a trial and seven weeks away from the comp.

"I will not make a decision before I need to."

McGregor also praised Norman's attitude since the switch.

"He has been fantastic," McGregor said. "He is refreshing to have around. He is always up.

"I think he found it a little bit challenging when he first got here.

"Any change is challenging, he is no different. But I feel the last fortnight, probably the last week actually, he is starting to really take hold of what he needs to do for the footy team.

How will Dufty deal with his demotion? Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.
How will Dufty deal with his demotion? Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.

 

"In every respect, it is a rounded sort of approach. His performance in conditioning is much improved from when he got here.

"His knowledge of our team structures and systems is coming to him more naturally. He has clarity around that.

"And he is becoming more boisterous in the approach that he is getting more confident within the playing group that he can talk more.

"It is not one thing that he has done better. He is actually improving in the gym.

"I know that he is not that keen on it but he is approaching it with a feeling that we get our confidence through our preparation and he is attacking that well."

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