Rugby league icons Matty Johns and Gorden Tallis have savaged the culture at the St George-Illawarra Dragons after a series of embarrassing and unwanted headlines for the NRL club. Following a bitterly disappointing season in 2022, coach Anthony Griffin would have been hoping for a strong off-season from his troops ahead of the new campaign.
However, it's turned into an off-season from hell for the Red V, who have lurched from one off-field controversy to the next. It started with five-eighth Talatau Amone being stood down as he waits to face court next month on a charge of reckless grievous bodily harm in company, for an alleged hammer attack on a tradie.
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Things went from bad to worse for the Dragons after they were thumped by the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield match in Mudgee and winger Mikaele Ravalawa and forward Zane Musgrove got in an alcohol-fuelled scuffle at 6am at their team hotel. Both players have been fined over the incident, with Ravalawa reportedly claiming he was "too drunk" to remember it afterwards.
Match Highlights 🎥 - #NRLDragonsSouths
South Sydney's representative stars stole the show in Mudgee, as the Rabbitohs won an entertaining Charity Shield game 42-24 over the Dragons. pic.twitter.com/8mVgS1WDJj
— NRL (@NRL) February 18, 2023
The club's nightmare off-season took another hit this week when forward Francis Molo pleaded guilty to a domestic-related intimidation charge. The former Queensland State of Origin prop appeared on Wednesday before a Port Kembla Local Court, where he pleaded guilty to a charge of intimidation from December.
The matter has been referred to the NRL's integrity unit, who will wait until the court hearing on March 22 before deciding whether to punish the 28-year-old. It means Molo will be free to play until that point, with the NRL opting against enforcing the discretionary no-fault stand-down policy on the forward.
It's understood Griffin - who's coaching future at the Dragons has also come under question - addressed the players at training this week about the alcohol-fuelled incident involving Ravalawa and off-season recruit Musgrove. Speaking to Fox Sports about the controversy, Johns said it wasn't the argument between teammates that upset him as much as the wider context around the incident.
Dragons culture under fire after recent drama
“The thing I’d be disappointed in, if I was Anthony Griffin, I’d be going ‘Hey boys, can I just ask you, we got flogged, and then we are still drinking at six in the morning?'" Johns said. “I’d be going to them and saying ‘What are you saying to me by doing that?'
“That’s more to the point... If I’m Anthony Griffin I am coming away and thinking where are their heads at, are they listening to me? What is going on here when you have a loss like that and blokes are still going and getting on it, that’s more to the point. The coach is thinking, just around the corner we have Round 1, and we just got hammered and we are doing that.”
Tallis also suggested there was a culture problem at the Dragons, amid reports from The Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Webster that "there is interest at board level for Jason Ryles" to replace Griffin as the club's coach. However, Tallis has gone into bat for the veteran coach after insisting the club's problems extend far beyond the coach.
The Dragons and Broncos legend referenced the club's infamous Covid breach during an unsanctioned team BBQ in 2021, as well as the player no-show at last year's end of season awards as proof of the deep-seated issues at St George-Illawarra. “Was there a barbecue-gate in the middle of Covid? Did they (Dragons players) break protocol? Did they go to the presentation [awards night]? And now this,” Tallis said on Triple M.
"There’s three strikes and in baseball you’re out. The players need to take ownership of that club. It’s really hard to turn over a roster so the quickest way they do it is turning over a coach.
"They turned over Wayne Bennett... Steve Price, Paul McGregor and now they’re talking about Anthony Griffin. Don’t think that those four guys are the problem."
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