Dragons punished in brutal NRL pre-season

Tariq Sims says St George Illawarra will be learning to cope with adversity in the NRL pre-season
Tariq Sims says St George Illawarra will be learning to cope with adversity in the NRL pre-season

New-look coaching staff will put St George Illawarra through a military-style pre-season as the club aims to restore supporters' faith following a dismal 2019 NRL season.

The brutal standards were revealed as players returned to training in scorching conditions in Wollongong this week, with punishments dished out for poor body language, including hands on hips or heads.

Attention to detail is a big focus and players will be expected to overcome challenges, show no signs of pain, and look ready for the next one.

It's the result of a football department review, conducted in consultation with Phil Gould, which found the club was lacking in culture and resilience.

"They're going to make it more like a drill camp which is good because we're setting very high standards for ourselves," said prop Josh Kerr.

"We've already picked up on a few things we were doing last year and we're changing how we do things.

"I'm speaking a bit early here but it's going to be a complete new-look Dragons side next year.

"It's a whole new side. I think we'll be a lot stronger mental side and physical side."

The Dragons finished 15th last season, their lowest as a merged club, winning only eight games.

While refusing to offer an excuse, State of Origin representative Tariq Sims said the players struggled to cope with a big injury toll and the long-running drama surrounding Jack de Belin being stood down by the NRL indefinitely.

"We just need to be better with dealing with adversity," he said.

"I think that's definitely a message that will be coming through.

"The people that we have involved with the club now with the coaching staff, I think they're going to be involved and play a big role in us players dealing with adversity along the way."

Dragons players were also reviewed at the end of the season, and Sims said no one was given a sugar-coated version of the truth.

The 29-year-old said criticism of the club's culture hurt, but it has motivated the squad to take the heat off coach Paul McGregor.

"Our coach comes under a lot of criticism there and he cops a lot of heat for performances that we dish up and to be honest a few of our performances last year were pretty embarrassing," Sims said.

"That's the kind of bloke Mary (McGregor) is, he wears his heart on his sleeve and he'll step in and take the heat, take the big bullets for us so the confidence of the playing group doesn't get knocked."

Players were put through their first conditioning session under the watchful eye of new strength and conditioning coach Adrian Jimenez on Tuesday.

Former Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is expected to join the club as an assistant in December as the Dragons finalise his contract.

The club also announced on Tuesday chief executive Brian Johnston will depart the role in March.

Johnston informed the board of his intention to step down last month to focus on his family and farm in Dunedoo.

The Dragons board will meet later in November to discuss the process for finding a replacement to Johnston.

Australian Associated Press