Tyson Frizell wants to repay Paul McGregor for assisting him to overcome self-doubts about his ability by helping the St George Illawarra coach avenge the heartbreak of the 1999 grand final.
Frizell was seven years old at the time and remembers being in tears when the Dragons, who were captained by McGregor, lost the premiership decider 20-18 after Melbourne Storm winger Craig Smith was awarded a 78th-minute penalty try.
”It would be awesome to win a premiership with the Dragons, it would mean a lot to me because I grew up in Wollongong and supported the Steelers, and then the Dragons when they came in,” Frizell told NRL.com.
”I remember sitting on my beanbag at home watching the grand final, Melbourne versus the Dragons, when Mary [McGregor] was the captain. I was a bit teary seeing them lose after the penalty try for a high tackle at the end.
”It’s funny watching guys like him when you are a kid, and now he is the coach.”
The 26-year-old credits McGregor for guiding his rise in recent seasons to the NSW Origin and Australian teams.
There are few players in the NRL who had never been selected in a junior representative team and Frizell admits he has had doubts about his ability after failing to win over selectors during his younger days.
As a teenage forward for Corrimal Cougars, his greatest source of encouragement was the success of Ben Hornby, who captained the Dragons to the joint venture’s only premiership in 2010 and is a member of McGregor’s coaching staff.
”He had come from the Cougars and he was playing first grade so that made me think one day I could do that,” Frizell said. ”It’s funny because his parents only lived up the road and whenever I would go past there I would say that’s Ben Hornby’s parent’s house.
”At that age, it was good to know it was achievable for a guy from my local club to make a career out of footy.”
Since McGregor took over midway through the 2014 season, Frizell has thrived and he is now an established member of the Blues and Kangaroos teams. He will be one of the key Dragons players in Thursday night’s NRL season opener against Brisbane Broncos.
McGregor’s influence was why Frizell never wanted to consider approaches from rival clubs in 2016 before accepting a contract extension with the Dragons until the end of the 2020 season.
”Mary has helped me a lot and that is a reason I stuck around and re-signed when things weren’t going well for the club,” Frizell said.
”I saw potential in what we had as a squad and I had been playing my best footy under him and my best footy at the Dragons so there was no reason for me to leave.”
Specifically, he said, McGregor had given him confidence in his ability and convinced him he had the potential to be one of the leading forwards in the game.
”Playing footy you can be very doubtful in your ability but I guess he can see a lot of things in me that I don’t,” Frizell said.
“He has let me know that I can be one of the best players on the field when I am on my game and he drives me week in and week out to do that.
”Hopefully I can keep getting better as a player and I can stay at the Dragons as long as I can.”
Frizell’s wife Samantha, whom he married in December, has also provided ongoing support as he has battled to overcome surgery and lengthy rehabilitation stints for injuries.
With her encouragement, Frizell has almost completed a diploma of small business and is looking to start a building certificate.
”In areas where I need help or need driving, she gives me that kick in the arse but she knows how tough rugby league can be mentally,” he said.
”Footy doesn’t last that long and I guess you can get stuck in that rugby league bubble but once your career finishes it bursts and you are back into the real world.
”All we have known our whole lives is to play footy and to work hard and do things right so that you can play week in and week out, and then you need to transition to something else when you are in your early 30s or late 30s.
”Most people are established in their careers then and we are just starting. It is tough so it is good to have your wife or partner there to support you.”
Before then, Frizell has goals he wants to achieve in the game and he is confident the addition of halfback Ben Hunt will ensure the Dragons are a premiership force this season and in coming seasons.
As the right-edge backrower, Frizell is set to play alongside Hunt and he said their one game together in the Charity Shield had already given him an insight into how the former Broncos playmaker would benefit his game.
”I was pretty excited to find out he was coming here long term,” Frizell said of Hunt, who has signed a five-year deal with the Dragons. ”In the time I have been here, I think I have played with seven different halfbacks and they have pretty much all been on my edge.
”Sometimes the role of a backrower is to look after your halfback but he doesn’t need too much of that from me. Not many halfbacks would have been able to transition into the middle the way he did last year [at hooker] so he is a tough bugger, who can tackle and he organises the team really well.
”Also with his running game, he is able to take the line on really well and that makes my job a lot easier when I am carrying the ball and he is taking defenders off me.
”I think last year we lost about seven games by close margins so having another X-factor in our team like Ben can probably provide a couple of wins this season. If we do that we should play finals footy.”