He’ll always be the man who ended St George Illawarra’s long wait for an NRL premiership but the Dragons appear to have no qualms defeating former coach Wayne Bennett.
The Dragons have claimed victory in 12 of their past 13 encounters with teams coached by Bennett – including a 12-10 win over Brisbane in round seven this year.
After being axed from the Dragons support staff when Bennett arrived at the club in 2009, current Dragons coach Paul McGregor has every right to take Friday’s clash with the Broncos personally.
McGregor also nearly had to give up his job last year when Bennett agreed to return to the Dragons, only for the seven-time premiership coach to then renege on the deal.
But the current Dragons coach played down any suggestion Friday’s game would be a grudge match.
“There’s a respect factor there with where the Broncos are at,” McGregor said.
“If you look at where Brisbane are at, they’re leading the competition, they’re not there for any one reason. They’ve got a quality coach and quality players.
“We did get a victory, a tight one, in Sydney but the return game here has nothing to do with that. It’s a completely different week in the year and completely different circumstances.”
McGregor’s main worry is pitching young halfback Drew Hutchinson into the action with Benji Marshall almost certain not to play due to a hamstring strain picked up in last weekend’s win over the Warriors.
The 20-year-old debuted in round 18’s 28-8 hiding by Cronulla. But McGregor says that game was a hard one to judge Hutchinson on.
“We were understrength that day as well. We had nine other guys out as well, so it wasn’t a real good indication of how good the player can be,” McGregor said.
“I’m quite comfortable that, if he does take the field, he can do a good job.”
Bennett says he knows little about Hutchinson but his opposition is not his main concern.
After an error-strewn display in last Friday’s 18-16 loss to Canterbury, Bennett believes it’s up to his team to clean up their performance to return to winning ways.
“We were pretty good last week, we just beat ourselves more than anything else,” Bennett said.
“If we can play as well as we did last week and fix a few little things up we’ll probably be in the contest all night.”
The Broncos welcome back prop Adam Blair after a two-week suspension, although captain Justin Hodges is out after copping a one-game ban for a high shot in the Bulldogs loss.
Dale Copley is the man charged with replacing the veteran while Lachlan Maranta will also return to the starting lineup in place of injured outside back Corey Oates.
BRISBANE v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA – Key match stats
* Brisbane have won eight of their past nine clashes with St George Illawarra with their sole defeat being a 12-10 loss at Kogarah in round seven this year.
* Brisbane average just under 29 points a game at home this season and are yet to lose at Suncorp Stadium in 2015 after scoring 16 points or more.
* Josh Dugan is one try away from 50 for his career and has six four-pointers in eight games against the Broncos.