Captain Cameron McInnes says he is disgusted by a claim that St George Illawarra players are divided over Jack de Belin’s presence at training.
McInnes said he was not surprised by the “media pile on” after his team slumped to a 0-4 NRL season start that prompted the Dragons board to discuss coach Paul McGregor’s future this week.
But he was livid over radio commentator Ray Hadley’s suggestion this week that de Belin had caused a rift in the playing ranks, saying some critics like to “kick a dog when they are down”.
De Belin has been suspended from playing under the “no-fault stand-down” policy but continues to train with the Dragons as he awaits a June 22 court hearing after being charged with aggravated sexual assault in 2018.
“It is pretty insulting. As a playing group we are pretty pissed off about that,” McInnes said of the claim.
“For somebody who has absolutely no knowledge of what actually happens in here … to come out with something like that and heap more pressure on somebody who has already gone through a lot, to be honest is pretty disgusting.
“It shows the lengths people will go to almost kick a dog when they are down.”
McInnes said he had no idea how ex-NSW star de Belin’s presence could be seen as a distraction for his players.
“Every week when a team is picked there are guys on the cusp who miss out,” he said.
“They go into the second team and their job is to prepare the first grade team to play that weekend.
“We have Jack, who last time he played was one of the best forwards in the game – each week, he is helping us to prepare.
“Anybody who wants to use that as a distraction is just looking for excuses.”
McInnes said he understood the criticism aimed at his underperforming side but claimed the cause of their problems was simple – their poor completion rates.
“Everyone has got a theory on why we aren’t performing. That’s rugby league – you’ve got to win and if you don’t questions are asked, we get that,” he said.
“When I say I am disgusted by the article I am not shocked by it.
“The more media, the more shows there are, the more analysis there is, the more overthinking there is.
“But I am telling you right now, if we get our completion rate sorted it will be a different ball game out there.”
McInnes said his players were right behind McGregor who earned a reprieve when the board stuck with him on Tuesday although the coach reportedly has four games to prove his worth.
“Now it is up to us players to do our bit and turn this around,” he said.