An emotional Paul McGregor claimed St George Illawarra’s tough 14-12 win over Parramatta showed his team had never stoppled playing for him and each other.
In his final game in charge, McGregor barked the orders from the sideline as his team claimed their biggest scalp of the season.
Mikaele Ravalawa scored a double, fellow winger Jordan Pereira produced 16 tackle busts and Blake Lawrie was dominant up front, totalling 189 metres.
After six years in charge, the night ended with Cameron McInnes giving the 52-year-old the jersey off his back and seven Saints fans chanting “we want Mary” in the rain.
“It was a nice way to finish my career with the club,” McGregor said.
“The players are pretty emotional in there. There was a lot of talk that they weren’t a tough group and that they weren’t playing for me.
“But that just too far from the truth and they displayed that tonight.”
A club legend in his playing days, McGregor on Friday joined Nathan Brown as the most capped coach of the joint venture on 151 games.
He has spent 25 years at the Steelers and Dragons, going from a star centre to strength and conditioning coach and eventually replacing Steve Price as coach in 2014.
His decision to leave came on mutual terms, but only after the pressure built after a horror 18 months and frustration over the selection panel process.
“You start off as a player and that journey is a great one,” McGregor said.
“Then you become a captain, a club captain and a staff member and then a coach.
“It has been a series of privileges the whole way through, I’ve never felt like it’s an obligation.
“The close-out speech was something I will remember and some of the words said by some of the players were very special.”
With their finals hopes all but gone and after the week they’d had, the Dragons had every right to fall out of the fight several times against the Eels.
After they fell behind early, Zac Lomax produced some magic to leap high and take a Corey Norman bomb in the lead up to Ravalawa’s first.
The winger then did it all himself for his second, powering his way through Dylan Brown and Gutherson to create a 10-6 half-time lead.
Then after the Eels made it 12-10 after the break, the Dragons kicked clear for their fifth win of the year with two penalty tries.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was gritty enough to send McGregor out a winner.
It marked just the third loss of the year for Parramatta – they are third on the ladder but missed a golden opportunity to go four points clear of the Sydney Roosters.
“They wanted it a bit more than us,” Eels coach Brad Arthur said.
“It’s not an excuse (that they were sending out a coach). They just did things harder with more desire than us.
“We didn’t deserve to win.”