Reports have emerged that Queensland's State of Origin coach Billy Slater turned down an approach from the St George Illawarra Dragons in regards to the NRL club's head coaching role. Pressure has been mounting for months on current Dragons coach Anthony Griffin, with the veteran mentor's future likely to be decided next month.
The club have already spoken with representatives of potential replacements, keen to gauge their interest before making a call on whether to re-sign Griffin. Club great Jason Ryles would likely be one of the chief contenders, along with fellow Dragons stars Ben Hornby and Dean Young. Manly assistant and former premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan are likely to be other names floated at a board meeting next week.
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There is sense that results in the next month - when the Dragons play Canberra, the Sydney Roosters, Canterbury and the Wests Tigers - could dictate whether or not Griffin is granted a stay of execution at the Dragons. However, there is a strong feeling within rugby league circles that the 56-year-old won't be at the club in 2024.
Speaking about the situation on NRL 360 on Wednesday night, the panel revealed that in their extensive search for potential coaching candidates, the Dragons were turned down by Slater, who famously guided the Maroons to a State of Origin series win on his coaching debut in 2022. “The coaching situation is ongoing at the Dragons and they have cast the net far and wide for the potential Anthony Griffin replacement,” The Daily Telegraph’s Michael Carayannis said.
“Dragons officials the last couple of weeks have picked up the phone to get a gauge on the interest levels of various candidates and one of those is Queensland coach Billy Slater." He claims the response from Slater was a polite, "Thanks but no thank you".
Co-host Paul Kent said it was curious to hear the Dragons had made a play at Slater amid their extensive efforts to sound out potential candidates. “It is an interesting one the fact that they have gone after Slater,” he said. “They did say they are going through a process and get out there and go through a methodical order of who is available and what they can offer and then we find out today that they have had a sneaky little grab at Billy.”
Carayannis clarified that the Dragons had not actually offered Slater the role, but merely gauged his interest in it. “This is part of what they said they were going to do, they said they were going to gauge some potential candidates and look at who is available and I can’t fault them for just seeing if there was any interest from Billy,” Carayannis said. “It wasn’t like they formally offered him the job and said if you want it, it is yours. It was, Billy would you be interested? And word has come back no, thank you very much and they have moved on to other candidates.
“This is ahead of the board meeting next Tuesday where the board will be given a list of potential candidates that want the job and are interested in the job. From there they will work out what they are looking for in a coach.”
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The situation comes amid reports that a Dragons director told Wide World of Sports that the Dragons board has decided against appointing someone from within the club. If that is the case, it would rule out Ryles, Hornby and Young.
"The last time we had success was back in 2010 when we looked outside the box, hired Wayne Bennett and won the comp," the Dragons source said. "We feel that is the way to go. Granted Griffin came from outside but that hasn't worked as well as we had hoped. But we feel it's best to get a fresh face, someone not aligned with St George or Illawarra and new to the club with no pre-conceived ideas."
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported the Dragons have met with leading player manager George Mimis, who also represents former Manly coach Des Hasler. It's understood the club's new stance puts the two-time premiership winning coach in pole position for the role.
Bulldogs supremo and Nine commentator Phil Gould said he thinks Hasler would be a good choice at the Dragons: "I think the Dragons need someone who has never been a part of the Dragons... I think Des Hasler would be a good fit for them right at this time".
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