Dragons must deal with the State of Origin hoodoo
PAUL McGregor has not exactly set the NRL alight in his previous four seasons as coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons - the famed Big Red V.
In fact, one finals appearance in that time is a fail on any coaching record.
But if the man called Mary thinks the past has been a tortuous trip, to use the vernacular, 'He aint seen nothin' yet'.
The Origin hoodoo, experienced by so many clubs in the past, is about to hit like a sledgehammer. And unless it's handled expertly by McGregor and his coaching staff, the heartaches of those recent fruitless years will return.
Last year, after leading the premiership race seven weeks in, the Dragons suddenly lost all trace of their early season form, and fire. Of their final 13 matches, they won just five and ingloriously tumbled out of the finals race.
And that was on the back of only two players - Tyson Frizzell and Josh Dugan - involved in State of Origin.
For the next eight rounds, McGregor will need to mollycoddle five of his best as the Dragons endeavour to maintain their top-of-the-table spot, or at the very least stay in the top four.
How his Origin players - Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims - handle the physical and mental pressure of their respective Origin experiences has become the premiership key.
Each player will be carrying Origin scars of some degree.
Hunt will be disappointed at losing his No.7 jersey and the series; Frizell, de Belin and Vaughan at missing the clean sweep; and Sims for his infantile penalty in game three that gave Queensland the opening to level the scores, and ultimately win the match.
The season of their club will be defined by how - and how long - it takes them as individuals and collectively to recover from the agony and the ecstasy of the most demanding contest the game offers.
And if the thinking of the bookies is any indication, the jury is very much still out. Despite sitting equal top with the Rabbitohs after 16 rounds - but second on percentage - the Dragons are rated fourth on the line of betting.
McGregor was on the ball when he sent a member of his high-performance team to the US city of Denver last month to monitor James Graham and Gareth Widdop following the one-off Test at high altitude.
How the coach reacts to the load on his five Origin reps will be of more interest to the legion of frustrated Dragons fans.
HOPEFULLY those who have savagely slagged Daly Cherry- Evans in the past will now get off his back.
Cherry-Evans was superb for Queensland on Wednesday night and for mine was the best player on the field. I seriously doubt the Maroons would have won without him.
No doubt DCE is different to the run-of-the-mill NRL player. But should being intelligent, articulate and a deep thinker about the game be a cross to bear?