St George Illawarra NRL coach Paul McGregor has failed to guarantee under-fire playmaker Benji Marshall’s future at the club.
Off-contract at the end of this season and being battered from pillar to post after a string of poor performances, the 31-year-old’s career is under a dark cloud.
He is reported to have had a run-in with McGregor after being singled out this week in a video session – reports that have been hosed down by both parties.
McGregor said while he had no plans to drop the ex-New Zealand Test playmaker to reserve grade, he stopped short of guaranteeing he would play out of Wollongong in 2017.
“He’d feel some frustration and some pressure because he is off-contract and he is a legend of the game. That hurts,” McGregor said on Thursday.
“But as a club coach, I’ve got to look at all (players) available for the future and what’s out there and do the right thing by the club.”
The Dragons have made big plays for Luke Keary and Corey Norman as replacements for Marshall next season – missing out on both – and have been linked with out-of-favour Sydney Roosters playmaker Jackson Hastings.
The Dragons are two wins outside the eight with four rounds remaining. McGregor, his players and senior management are under the microscope with the side staring down the barrel of six-straight losses going into Saturday’s local derby with Cronulla.
The relationship between McGregor and Marshall came into question this week when they were said to have been involved in a heated war of words however the coach downplayed the incident.
Fullback Josh Dugan on Wednesday jumped to the defence of the hard-nosed coach, with McGregor refusing to change his tell-it-like-it-is style, even if he risked ruffling some feathers.
“I’m not perfect but I’m real,” McGregor said.
“Man management is a big thing in sport.
“Last year, everybody is happy and, when you’ve got players not playing to their full potential, which they did last year, a coach’s job is to create an environment to do that.
“And when that environment is not a winning environment, you get challenged in your certain circumstances and this is just one of those circumstances because that’s the sort of person I am – that’s the way I do things.”