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McGregor opens up about 2016 pain

NZN 8/06/2017 Steve Zemek

Paul McGregor hadn't experienced failure in his 35-year playing and coaching career until St George Illawarra missed last year's NRL finals and when it hit, it felt like a punch to the jaw.

After beginning the 2017 with his job hanging on a knife's edge, McGregor on Thursday celebrated a two-year contract extension which will see him stay in charge of the Red V until the end of 2019.

The side's failure to make the top eight last year and a gloomy outlook for 2017 placed him under immediate pressure.

However with his side having entrenched themselves in the top four, the club put pen to paper on an extension.

"It's challenging. I played for my club, played for my country, played for my state. As a player and a coach failure didn't hit me until last year," McGregor said.

"Because the first year of coaching we made the finals in 2015 and it was the first time in four years for the club.

"It was the smack in the mouth I needed and something I took personally and hurt. I knew I needed to undergo some change."

That change came in throwing out a playbook which he admits had become stagnant and boring and relinquishing several responsibilities, including retention and recruitment.

When it came for a season de-brief at the end of 2016, his players told him bluntly that they were unhappy with the manner in which their playing style and game plan had been chopped and changed throughout the season.

So he went back to the drawing board.

"It's about creating a style that fits who we are, not what fits how others play. And for us I thought we had a really dominant forward pack," McGregor said.

"The style we wanted to play was coming off the front foot."

As he strived to save his job over the first few months of the season, McGregor also fought a very private battle after his mother Jean suffered a stroke in February.

Jean, a lifelong Illawarra Steelers and Dragons fan, suffered ill health for several months until she died in late May.

McGregor credited his parents with instilling in him his lifelong love of rugby league as well as the self belief that was required to play and coach at the highest level.

"She was a tough, resilient person. I saw mum cry half a dozen times in her life," McGregor said.

"I feel that she was always there for a chat but she told me what I should hear. Mum treated people like she would like to be treated.

"When you hear that stuff at the time you think 'Yeah mum, yeah mum'. But it's not until you don't get to speak to your mother again that you revisit some of those conversations and you understand what she was saying.

"Where I am now has a lot to do with how mum and dad brought me through."

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