Paul McGregor to put player welfare first after St George Illawarra thrash Manly 32-8

Different class: Dragons halfback Ben Hunt got the better of Daly Cherry-Evans and Manly as St George Illawarra won 32-8. Picture: AAP Image
Different class: Dragons halfback Ben Hunt got the better of Daly Cherry-Evans and Manly as St George Illawarra won 32-8. Picture: AAP Image

Dragons coach Paul McGregor has vowed to put the welfare of his players first as they head into a potentially arduous stand-alone representative weekend.

St George Illawarra now lose James Graham and Gareth Widdop to England and Leeson Ah Mau to New Zealand for the historic Denver Test, while Jason Nightingale is a ''shadow player'' for the Kiwis, said McGregor.

Nene Macdonald and Tim Lafai will represent Papua New Guinea and Samoa respectively at Campbelltown on Saturday. While Blues representatives Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims, as well as Queenslander Ben Hunt, will feature in Sunday's State of Origin II blockbuster at ANZ Stadium.

“The boys have got an important game to them to play for their country [and] obviously State of Origin is on a Sunday now,” McGregor said.

“So we’ll just reassess things after those two games. Because we have only got a four-day turnaround going into Parramatta. And if I do play the Origin guys against Parramatta that will be four games in 21 days. 

“For me, the welfare of my players comes first before anything. And that’s the most important thing.

“If the boys approach it the right way and prepare the right way there will be minimal risk. We'll make sure we've got everything in place prior to the game and post game.

"I'm a person who backs my players to play representative footy because it's important to them. That's why you play as a young bloke because you want to play at the highest level.

"I won't hide under the doona or anything like that. I'll wish them all the best.''

McGregor was delighted with his side’s performance as the Dragons thrashed a poor Manly side 32-8 on Saturday night.

St George Illawarra blew the Sea Eagles away in the second half at WIN Stadium to keep them top of the NRL table heading into the NRL’s standalone representative weekend.

Kurt Mann posted the first four-pointer 13 minutes before half-time, providing a classy finish to a Matt Dufty long-ball. Lafai did it all himself minutes later, breezing past Brad Parker on a short blindside to cross for a 10-2 lead.

Sea Eagles rookie Tom Wright did the same shortly after, blazing past Widdop and burning Dufty with a right-foot step on a 30-metre dash to the line. But Sims crossed from close range to reestablish the Dragons’ 16-8 lead at the interval.

Widdop latched onto a perfectly placed grubber from Hunt six minutes after the resumption, converting his own try for a 22-8 lead. Graham scored his first try in Dragons colours 11 minutes later before Macdonald sealed the win.

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