The Dragons must make former player Craig Fitzgibbon their new head coach, rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns says.
With McGregor history, Johns has firmed in his belief that Fitzgibbon, 43, must be the man to lead the club’s resurrection.
Fitzgibbon’s commitment to seeing out his contract as a Roosters assistant next season is a hurdle that may force the Dragons to seek a one-year caretaker; as does the head coaching ban of current assistant Shane Flanagan, touted as the club’s preferred option.
Wayne Bennett, who delivered the Dragons’ drought-breaking 2010 premiership, has also been tipped for a possible return. Dean Young, a hero of that premiership side, was made caretaker for the remainder of this season after McGregor’s sacking.
But Johns told Wide World of Sports that the Dragons should go all-in on Fitzgibbon, a Trent Robinson protege who would be taking his first head coaching role.
“Fitzy is a perfect fit, Craig Fitzgibbon,” Johns said on Freddy and the Eighth, alongside Roosters legend Brad Fittler. Johns spoke just before McGregor was sacked.
“He’s from down that way, he’s been in an unbelievable system [at the Roosters], you (Fittler) have had him into the [NSW] Origin [squad] defensively; his attention to detail is sensational.
“He’s the next really top-line coach, which then comes off the Trent Robinson coaching tree. We’ve seen Paul Green win a premiership [at the Cowboys], Justin Holbrook doing a great job up there at the Titans. He’s the next one.
“But he’s kept his ego in check and he’s said, ‘I just want to stay here and learn for a while’. There’s been jobs offered to Craig Fitzgibbon; I understand the Knights one may have been offered to him, which would have been a perfect fit.
“But local boy from down there, still lives down at Austinmer, which is 20 minutes from Wollongong. It’s the perfect fit.
“I think the time is right and I think he’s the man for the job.”
Johns said there seemed little chance that Flanagan, the 2016 Sharks premiership-winning coach, would get the jump on Fitzgibbon for the Dragons job.
“Shane Flanagan, I can’t see the NRL lifting the ban at all,” Johns said.
“I can’t see them allowing him back before his suspension’s over.”
Fitzgibbon played for the Illawarra Steelers in 1998, then St George Ilawarra in 1999 before joining the Sydney Roosters. The tough forward was the Clive Churchill Medallist in the Roosters’ 2002 grand final win, plus a NSW Origin and Kangaroos Test veteran.
Fittler said that the Dragons could ask Fitzgibbon and the Roosters to reconsider their commitment to remaining together next season; yet added that his old premiership teammate was a steadfast character.
“You’ve still got to knock on Fitzy’s door. There’s a lot of credibility with Craig Fitzgibbon,” Fittler said.
“I wouldn’t worry about [Roosters chairman] Nick [Politis], you’ve got to knock on Fitzy’s [door] first.”
Fittler said that he would have persisted with McGregor for the remainder of this season. Waiting until the end of the season would have significantly lessened McGregor’s pay-out but the club had apparently run out of patience.
Johns, who in June called for the Dragons to “blow up” their current failing situation, said that the club still looked a mess despite a brief upswing in fortunes. The Dragons are 12th on the ladder with a 4-9 record and have lost their past three games.
“They’ve fallen in a real heap,” Johns said.
“They had a really strong roster there three or four years ago but I just don’t think they’ve turned certain players over, we all know they’ve paid overs for players.
“They’ve changed some key positions week after week after week, I don’t think that’s helped them.
“A guiding light is this young bloke Zac Lomax, he’s been sensational, and [Matt] Dufty. But other than that, I think they’ve really struggled.
“Last week, this team [compared] to the Roosters, it was a reserve grade team with three or four first-graders and they just couldn’t get it done. Could not get it done.
“They had all the running at half-time, all the momentum, and as soon as anything goes the other way they just crumble, like a lot of the lower teams this year.”