St George Illawarra Dragons turn to James Shepherd, Matt Griggs as part of shake up

Fresh face: James Shepherd, who helped Cronulla to win their historic maiden premiership in 2016, has joined the Dragons as an assistant coach. Picture: Anthony Johnson
Fresh face: James Shepherd, who helped Cronulla to win their historic maiden premiership in 2016, has joined the Dragons as an assistant coach. Picture: Anthony Johnson

St George Illawarra have turned to the shire to help to ensure there is no repeat of their disastrous 2019 NRL season.

The Dragons announced on Friday morning the finalisation of the review into their football department, which has led to a number of structural and personnel changes.

The club said in a statement while their football department was reviewed at the end of every season, this year's review took on more significance given their "unacceptable" 2019 campaign that saw them run second last.

Former premiership and State of Origin-winning coach and rugby league administrator Phil Gould was involved in the review as an external consultant.

Former Cronulla premiership-winning assistant coach James Shepherd has joined Paul McGregor's coaching staff for next season following Ben Hornby's departure.

Former Cronulla professional surfer Matt Griggs

Former Cronulla professional surfer Matt Griggs

One vacancy remains on the coaching staff - expected to be filled by former Sharks premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan - with the Dragons yet to finalise the appointment.

Former Cronulla professional surfer Matt Griggs has also joined the club as a mind and performance coach. Having worked alongside world champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore, Griggs will conduct lessons on meditation.

Former Sharks junior representative physio Davis Theobald will also join the Dragons as a rehab physiotherapist.

The Dragons, who return to training next week, have also added Adrian Jimenez (strength and conditioning) and Gerard Murphy (culture and leadership) to their backroom staff with Steve Dean promoted to lead NRL physiotherapist.

Dragons coach McGregor endorsed the outcomes of the football department review and is optimistic for a brighter 2020.

"Our performances throughout the 2019 season were not demonstrative of this proud club, given also the successful season we produced 12 months prior," McGregor said.

"There are plenty of positives that have come from the review. We accept we didn't play to our potential as a team last season. The review has also provided everyone involved a chance to reflect and learn from the hardships of 2019.

"The amount of change implemented across the football department hasn't occurred for a very long time and will provide a positive new approach to the 2020 season.

"I look forward to overseeing a collective rejuvenation of our on-field structures. This will be indicative of the football department changes as well as further involvement from the playing group."

The club have started renovations to the NRL change room and gym at WIN Stadium having already completed an upgrade to its Wollongong office facilities.

The Dragons have signed 24 players in their top 30 senior squad for next season, the minimum quota required by November 1. The club are in negotiations with a number of players to fill the final six spots with the Dragons also close to finalising its development player squad.

Dragons CEO Brian Johnston welcomed the conclusion of the review and the changes that have followed.

"Everyone at the Dragons were terribly dissatisfied with the club's 2019 season campaign which resulted in this wide-ranging internal and external review of the club's football department," Johnston said.

"The Dragons have made key structural changes to its coaching, performance and medical staff following the determination of a lack of experience within the wider group. This includes several new staff appointments to the football department.

"It was noted throughout the review that there needed to be a greater focus on club culture and leadership. In acknowledging this, the club have taken steps in this space in order to bring further accountability and discipline to the playing group.

"The Dragons are also in the process of renovating its facilities at WIN Stadium. This is for the benefit of not only the players but the staff situated in Wollongong as well.

"All of our stakeholders, including our partners, members and supporters can rest assured that the Dragons have not taken this process lightly and look forward to greater success in our upcoming campaign and beyond."

Meanwhile, Cronulla are expected to officially announce the return of centre Jesse Ramien on a four-year deal early next week.

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