It was supposed to be a media call to promote the traditional Anzac Day clash between St George Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters.
Instead, Dragons coach Paul McGregor was left frustrated by continued questions about star fullback Josh Dugan as speculation over the Australia and NSW representative’s future continues to steal attention away from the club’s outstanding start to the season.
McGregor insisted repeatedly, as he has for several months, that he would play Dugan at fullback next season if both remain at the club.
In a tense press conference at the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience at Darling Harbour’s Exhibition Centre, McGregor confirmed Dugan would remain as the club’s fullback despite St George Illawarra officials reportedly telling Dugan’s management they see him as a long-term centre.
With McGregor’s contract also finishing at the end of the season it has led to uncertainty over the futures of Dugan and captain Gareth Widdop. McGregor has distanced himself from negotiations between the club and players, claiming that is the remit of recruitment chief Ian Millward, with the coach conceding he had "zero [input] when it comes to money".
“If I’m the coach I’ll be picking the side in the number I want them to play. It’s that simple. At the moment Josh Dugan is the best fullback at the club,” McGregor said.
“That’s up to his management to work out with club management what he does get. Not Paul McGregor, because Paul McGregor is coaching in ‘17 right now.
“The club know my situation at the moment. And my situation was that if I’m coaching in 2018 and Josh Dugan was at the club then he’ll be fullback. But it’s 2017, a lot can change in six months.
“I suppose I started this ride because in 2014 when I took over from Steve [Price] I actually put Josh to centre. So now all of a sudden there’s an argument is he a centre or a fullback. He’s playing right centre for Australia. So I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer where he plays. It’s what fits the footy team.
“So in 2018 for arguments sake, if right centre is the position for Josh, Josh will play there. But as I see it right now he’s playing very good football in a position he likes to play which is fullback.”
McGregor, who had led the club to the top of the table after a 6-1 start ahead of Tuesday’s Anzac Day clash, said he had not yet looked at his own future, preferring to focus on the club’s retention of players.
“I’m fortunate enough in life that I can coach and get money or not coach and do something else,” he said.
“I enjoy coaching, it’s a passion I have. I’m coaching at the club that I have enormous passion for and I want to see them get back to [being] a top four side on a regular basis. That’s what I’m aiming to do now.
“There’s players to be sorted out first and that’s the most important thing. I’d like those players to stay at the club. We’re working through that at the minute. And from there where I fit into that that’s fine.”