Twelve months on from the bizarre first half announcement that Steve Price would coach the Dragons in 2014, those close to the mentor believe we are finally seeing “the real” Price evolve.
Little is known about the highly guarded St George Illawarra coach from those outside his inner-sanctum. But speak with those closest to him and they'll tell you he is fiercely loyal, loves a practical joke and the man once regarded as a dead-man walking in the NRL has a dry sense of humour.
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He is far more settled into his role as head coach, with a roster he can finally call his own. One of his most loyal servants Jason Nightingale, who was coached by Price in the Dragons 2005 Jersey Flegg premiership team, said despite the club’s inconsistent past two seasons, support from the dressing room of Price has never wavered.
“He has my back in terms of anything that I need,” Nightingale said. “ In return I feel like myself and the playing group feel like they should have his.”
While Nightingale said Price is extremely “hard” on his players, he does find time to lighten the mood.
“He is a big practical joker,” Nightingale said. “He probably cut up 20 players’ thongs last year and we probably didn’t know who it was until the end of the year and he still denies it. We all know it was him. He was cutting all our jandals and he was really getting us. We had no idea who it was. He still denies it now but we have put the finger on him.
“I’m sure he went home and enjoyed the joke to himself but he is a pretty intense sort of guy.
“Sometimes I can tell when he is under pressure. He is never not under pressure. He handles it pretty well. He has probably had more pressure on him as a coach than a lot of people since he started.
“I hope he finds times to relax, but he loves that sort of pressure.”
The Roosters won last year’s Anzac Day clash 34-10 before winning the premiership. Price and Roosters coach Trent Robinson are former teammates and Joel Caine, who played alongside the duo at Balmain said their fortunes could have been different.
“I have no doubt that if Pricey had the Roosters squad last year he would’ve won the comp,” Caine said. “Robbo and Pricey, they genuinely care about their players. That’s not something you can coach and players pick up on that.
“We don’t talk about footy much. He has been under immense pressure probably more than any coach in the last 20 years. The players have stuck by him the whole time. The bloke can coach there is no doubt about that.”
Should the Dragons take up the option on Price’s contract for next season, he will become the second longest-serving coach of the joint-venture behind Nath an Brown. It was Brown who pulled Price off the wharves and into a coaching role.
Price is big on building an inclusive football culture. He invited a fan to training after watching the Dragons diehard deliver a passionate precis about his love for the Red-V at the NRL season launch and has surrounded himself with footballers. He was bestman at Caine’s wedding while his brother-in-law is former teammate Adam Peek, after Price married Peek’s sister Sheridyn.
“I was playing in Adelaide for the Rams when they first started going out and no-one told me,” Peek said. “ I turned up at my dad’s 50th and I wanted to know why he was there.
“[Sheridyn] is like his assistant coach but I don’t know if he listens or not.”
A series of knee reconstructions restricted Price’s playing career to 12 top grade games for St George and Balmain. Caine said Price starred in St George's 1996 Jersey Flegg winning team.
“He is a bit of a gee-up merchant,” Caine said. “I asked if he had the rings on my wedding day and he said 'no'. At first I thought he was joking but he turned out to be serious. I had to get [former NRL player] John Carlaw to break into my house and he eventually got the rings just before my wife to be was walking down the aisle."
Andrew McFadden’s recent appointment as head coach of the Warriors has usurped Price’s position as the youngest coach in the NRL. At 36, Price is trying to show no signs of aging.
“He has been known to put a few dark rinses in his hair,” Peek said. “ He has cut that back because it was costing too much money.
“He has a bit of salt and pepper going on so hopefully they keep on winning”