McGregor wants fast start from Dragons

Darren Walton
Zac Lomax switches from fullback to the wing for St George Illawarra's NRL clash with Penrith

Besieged St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has issued his so-called "March premiers" with an early-season edict: fire up before becoming NRL also-rans once more.

The Dragons host Penrith on Friday night at Kogarah's Jubilee Stadium with McGregor already under the pump to deliver following a season-opening loss to Wests Tigers.

Time and again over the past decade the Dragons have made lightning starts to campaigns only to falter at the pointy end.

Little wonder then that, amid calls for his new premiership-winning assistant coach Shane Flanagan to take over, a slow start to 2020 doesn't bear thinking about for McGregor.

"The start of the year's very important. You don't want to be chasing teams in the early rounds because you've lost a couple of games," he said on Thursday.

"We put ourselves in the position to win (last week's) game on multiple occasions but we just didn't."

McGregor is expecting especially big things from Matt Dufty, who has snatched young gun Zac Lomax's No.1 jumper after recovering from a broken cheekbone sustained during the pre-season Nines.

The coach knows Lomax, having been promised the fullback role and trained there all pre-season, will be smarting after being shunted to the wing despite bagging a try and clocking a league-high 10.1km in round one.

But he said the move was not form-based but out of necessity due to a quad strain to Mikaele Ravalawa.

"I think there would be some disappointment there for sure," McGregor said.

"He hasn't shown it within the group because it was a team-first decision that Zac was moved because we didn't have anyone else to play on the wing.

"Duff's in a really good position to perform well because I haven't seen him work that hard in a pre-season - he really had an amazing pre-season.

"He's gone from a person that didn't really like training to owning training and certainly his values around the team about what needs to be done has improved out of sight.

"So I'm looking for Duff to go out there and really be exciting."

McGregor has also placed stars halves Corey Norman and Ben Hunt on notice.

"Our first 35 minutes was nice and controlled (against the Tigers) but we didn't finish the half well. And our second half with the finishes to our sets with our kicking game and our last six kicks were all negative," he said.

"So the takeaway from that is making sure that our priority this week is to get the best kicks as possible.

"We don't want to have to make 120 tackles."

If he's personally feeling the heat, McGregor's not admitting to it.

"It's round two of a two-year contract and I'm committed," he said.

"So the only focus I have is what's important now and that's this week's game and the future will look after itself."