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NRL News: Flanagan defends Lomax switch amid release rumours, Bennett linked with PNG role

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8th March, 2024
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Coach Shane Flanagan has conceded Zac Lomax is likely disappointed to be moved to the wing but insists the outside back will not be leaving St George Illawarra.

Lomax will start on the wing in the Dragons’ opening-round clash with Gold Coast on Saturday night despite publicly stating centre is his preferred position.

The shift has sparked rumours that Lomax is unhappy at the Dragons, with Jack Bird moving to the centres in his old spot to partner Moses Suli.

But regardless Flanagan said that would not change Lomax’s current deal running through until the end of 2026, meaning he cannot be approached by rivals until November 2025.

“He probably is (disappointed to be playing on the wing) … it’s really not a story for me. It’s a player that wants to play in a position,” Flanagan said.

“He is in our best 17. He is on the wing here at the moment. Does that stay like that? I am not quite sure.

“But at the moment my job is to pick the best 17 week-in, week-out. And at the moment my best 17 is Zac on the wing.

“He is contracted here for a couple of years so it’s really interesting to read about other clubs, Parramatta and so, being interested in him. He is under contract.”

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Flanagan backed himself to get the best out of Lomax, who has gone from a talented prodigy at the Dragons to dropped by former coach Anthony Griffin last year.

“That’s a challenge I have to find (the answer to),” Flanagan said.

“Some other coaches in the past four or five years have struggled with that. That’s my job to get the best out of him. And I will. He is a super athlete.”

The Dragons will have hooker Jacob Liddle (hamstring) fit to play while Blake Lawrie (ribs) remains in doubt.

Saturday night will mark Flanagan’s first game back in charge since his 2018 NRL deregistration for failing to abide by the rules of his 2014 ban.

The ex-Cronulla coach has previously spoke at length about the pain of that, and said players would now see a calmer coach than he was at the Sharks.

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The match is also Des Hasler’s first game back at the helm of a club, after being sacked by Manly in 2022 and signed by the Titans midway through last year.

He too has had positional decisions to make with AJ Brimson switched to the centres and 19-year-old Keano Kini filling in for injured fullback Jayden Campbell at No.1.

“(Kini) always asks questions,” Hasler said.

“We are very fortunate with the way he performed last season and he’s had a tremendous off-season. That is probably one position that we have good depth in.

“The great thing about AJ (at centre) is that he is a footballer and his IQ goes with that.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24: Coach Wayne Bennett talks to his players during a Dolphins NRL training session at Kayo Stadium on January 24, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett talks to his players during training. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Bennett to coach another new team?

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Papua New Guinea captain Kyle Laybutt backs the creation of a home-based NRL side and wants Wayne Bennett to be the inaugural coach.

The 28-year-old led the Kumuls to the Pacific Cup title on the international stage last year.

Laybutt welcomed recent comments by ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys that basing a PNG NRL side in Port Moresby rather than the north of Queensland was the best way forward.

The ARLC is investigating NRL expansion with PNG and Perth among leading contenders.

Bennett, off contract at the Dolphins as head coach at the end of 2024, supports a Perth bid and has said the PNG option would work if done right.

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Laybutt disagrees with critics who say that players would not move to PNG to play NRL.

“Personally I would jump at the chance and take any opportunity to play NRL in Papua New Guinea” Laybutt told AAP.

“It is my second home and where my family heritage is from. I’d just have to convince the missus.

“There is a long way to go but I would like to see an NRL team based in Papua New Guinea for sure.

“That comes down to grassroots and setting up programs there first, but it would be awesome to have and I think we deserve a team.

“Every discussion Peter V’landys has had about the team he seems really excited about it and keen on the opportunity, so there are good signs.”

V’landys was a prime mover behind Bennett coaching the Dolphins in their inaugural season in 2023 and Laybutt said the master coach would make for an ideal inaugural mentor.

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“It would be beneficial to have someone with the experience and knowledge of Wayne Bennett as coach so if he gets the opportunity and wants it then absolutely I would support that,” Laybutt said.

“Wayne’s record speaks for itself.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 22: (L-R) Assistant Kiwis coach Wayne Bennett and Kiwis captain Nathan Cayless hold aloft the world cup trophy after winning the 2008 Rugby League World Cup Final match between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand Kiwis at Suncorp Stadium on November 22, 2008 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Wayne Bennett and Kiwis captain Nathan Cayless hold aloft the World Cup trophy in 2008. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The eruption of tribal violence in PNG’s remote highlands after the death of 26 men last month led to Prime Minister James Marape handing arrest powers to the military.

The unrest followed chaotic scenes of rioting and looting in the capital Port Moresby and the nation’s second-largest city Lae in January, when at least 15 people were killed.

Laybutt said that unrest would not prevent the NRL from thriving.

“We have had a Queensland Cup team (the PNG Hunters) there for 10 years and teams have never had any issues,” Laybutt said.

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“It would be hard to attract some players from overseas but if they bring local and home grown talent into an NRL squad there are a lot of boys in NRL or Super League systems now who would come back. I know that for sure.”

Meaney a low-key star at Storm

Describing Nick Meaney as a “complete football player”, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has no doubt the utility will succeed in his latest positional switch to the Storm centres.

Having worn the Storm No.1 jersey consistently since round 17 in 2022, Meaney has made way at fullback for the return from injury of Ryan Papenhuyzen.

Named in the centres to face premiers Penrith at AAMI Park on Friday night, it’s only Meaney’s second NRL start in the role – his previous appearance coming back in 2021.

Meaney told AAP he was always aware of Papenhuyzen’s claims on the No.1 jersey.

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“I knew when I first signed here that Paps was here and he was always going to be the first-choice fullback,” Meaney said.

“I was happy with my year last year but Paps is an icon, who has done so many big things for this club.

“He’s such a great player so I know that he’s going to do a job for us at fullback.”

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Nick Meaney of the Storm is tackled during the round three NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Melbourne Storm at Cbus Super Stadium on March 18, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Nick Meaney is tackled by Joe Stimson. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Meaney has spent pre-season training in the centres, filling the hole left by Justin Olam, who is now playing with Wests Tigers, and said he’d tried to put on some extra weight to deal with the front-line contact.

He is excited to be playing alongside halfback Jahrome Hughes and winger Will Warbrick on the right edge, adding another aerial threat to the Storm’s attack.

“They’ve been helping me a lot and I’m definitely feeling good. The coaches have helped me a lot as well,” said the 26-year-old, who is negotiating to extend his time in Melbourne.

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Bellamy has always been a big fan, with Olam’s exit opening up a way to keep Meaney and Papenhuyzen in the starting side.

“He’s been great for us the two years he’s been here – last year he was our best back and probably our most consistent player,” Bellamy said. “We wanted to keep him on the side there somewhere.

“Last year he played the whole year at fullback and before that in the halves mainly, and he came to us as a winger, so I’ve got no doubt he’ll handle the centres.

“He’s been training there all pre-season and we know what a complete footy player Nick is. We’re confident he will do a good job there.”

with AAP

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