Paul McGregor gets his first test in Steve Price's shoes

St George Illawarra caretaker coach Paul McGregor may be reluctant to seek the job full-time but he possessed the same attitude as a player and proved to be one of the best centres in the modern era.

McGregor, an inaugural co-captain of the Dragons with Mark Coyne in 1999, will begin his audition for the club's vacant coaching job when he oversees the team for the first time in Monday's night's match against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.

The 46-year-old former Test centre has said he is not sure whether he wants to be an NRL head coach after being convinced to replace close friend Steve Price following his sacking last Monday but St George Illawarra officials are convinced he has the qualities to succeed in the role and want to assess his performance over coming weeks before deciding who will be in charge next season.

Wayne Bennett, Craig Bellamy, Laurie Daley, Neil Henry and Tony Smith are all names that have been linked to the job but McGregor will have the next 14 games to prove himself and he has asked former Leigh, St Helens, Wigan, North Queensland and Castleford coach Ian Millward to be his right-hand man.

Millward, who guided St Helens to two Challenge Cup final wins and two Super League premierships as well as victory over Brisbane in the 2001 World Club Challenge, has experience at taking over a coaching job mid-season after doing so at Saints, Wigan and the Cowboys in 2008. He is coaching the Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup, as well as helping McGregor prepare for the game against the Rabbitohs, and is likely to decide whether the work load is too much to manage after Monday night's match.

Coincidentally, Millward's father, Bob, was responsible for helping to convince a reluctant McGregor to play at the elite level when he finally signed with the Illawarra Steelers as a 23-year-old in 1991 to play under the late Graham Murray.

After five years of first grade with Dapto in the Illawarra competition, it took just a handful of matches with the Steelers for McGregor to be chosen for the annual City-Country clash and the next season he played the first of his 14 State of Origin matches for NSW.

"He was a bloke who was very talented but also very content to play with his mates and you could probably say he was a bloke we had to drag kicking and screaming," Bob Millward said. "He has gone right through the lot now, he has played for his country, he led a team onto the field in the 1999 grand final, he became a very good strength and conditioning coach, took up coaching and won three comps in a row in the Illawarra, did very well coaching the Cutters in their first two years and now he has been given the responsibility for the remainder of this year to see what he can do with the team.

"Paul is an example of the pathways available in the game in Illawarra, and myself and Muzza worked hard on him with encouragement from his father Frank before he eventually took up the challenge of playing so lets hope it continues to work out for him.

"He has probably said a dozen times there is no way I would coach a team but there is a pathway and he has certainly ticked all the boxes so I would love to see him one day go on to coach an NRL premiership side."

After seven seasons on the Dragons off-field staff as a strength and conditioning coach before the arrival of Bennett in 2009, McGregor served a long and successful coaching apprenticeship with Wests Devils and the Cutters before being promoted this year to work with Price and forwards coach Craig Young.

His role has involved focusing on the team's attack and running water and messages to players during matches but McGregor will be confined to the coach's box for the first time on Monday night at ANZ Stadium, with St George Illawarra's 2010 premiership winning captain Ben Hornby expected to wear the orange trainer's shirt.

This story Paul McGregor gets his first test in Steve Price's shoes first appeared on WA Today.