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The end came quickly for Dragons coach Steve Price

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Michael Carayannis
Changing times: Steve Price, pictured with Benji Marshall earlier this month. © Getty Images Changing times: Steve Price, pictured with Benji Marshall earlier this month.

When Steve Price did not front at Jason Nightingale’s engagement party on Saturday night the Dragons' playing group sensed something had gone awry for their coach.

While the pressure on Price had been building following a string of heavy losses, his players were caught off-guard when they were told of Price’s sacking on Monday. His no-show at Nightingale’s engagement party surprised many, given the pair share a close bond. But what most of the players didn’t know was that a day earlier Price was made to front St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust about the club’s fortunes for the rest of the year, and offer a "please explain" about recent results. He walked away from that meeting believing his two-and-a-half year coaching stint at the Dragons was over.

It was expected that Price would have survived until at least Monday night when the club’s board met.

However, he was told of his axing on Saturday before finalising the details of his release over the weekend. Fairfax Media revealed on Monday he had been sacked before the club announced the decision.

The board had all but made its mind up to not take up the one-year option on Price’s services for next year, but pulled the trigger early on his coaching career. A consultant engaged by the club last year set key performance indicators for the coaching staff, including Price and assistants Craig Young and Paul McGregor, this year and put the recommendation to the Dragons' board that it explore the coaching market before finalising next year's mentor.

They were loath to sack him though. Speak to those close to the club and they believe it was the playing group that had stood so firmly behind Price – who had developed many of the Dragons during his time as a lower-grade coach – that seemed to have given up on him.

It was player power that had Price get the job when Wayne Bennett left at the end of 2011 and you wouldn’t have found a current Dragon to have had a bad word said about him when he was granted a contract extension last year. His negotiations with Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall were pivotal to leading them to the club, even if some Dragons powerbrokers were reluctant to sign the pair.

But after undergoing a review to the club’s start of the season last week, the club withdrew its support of Price after the players had failed to respond in recent weeks. Price had labelled his team’s performance against Canterbury as “soft” two games ago, and held a crisis meeting with his forward pack where they “laid it all on the line” days after that loss. The result was a 36-0 thumping at the hands of the Eels, and left the board with little doubt that the players had lost faith in their coach.

Fairfax Media also understands there was disagreement between coaching staff members about whether Marshall should have played for the NSW Cup team the Illawarra Cutters at the weekend.

 The backlash from the club’s supporters had also built pressure on it to act swiftly.

The players had a training-free day on Monday, so McGregor will get his first opportunity to address his playing group on Tuesday. Doust and football manager Robert Finch called players on Monday morning to tell them Price had been sacked, although Trent Merrin – in camp with the Blues in Brisbane – had the news broken to him by Fairfax Media.

As for Price, a proud Dragons man, he went to ground on Monday as he ponders where his coaching future may lie. 

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