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NRL News: Lomax set to ask for Dragons release, Gus says depleted Broncos 'vulnerable', Katoa inks new deal

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28th March, 2024
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Zac Lomax appears to be on the outer at St George Illawarra with reports suggesting that he will ask for an immediate release from his contract to move elsewhere within the next week.

According to reports in the Daily Telegraph, the club and the player will sit down for crunch talks before the start of Round 4, in line with a schedule discussed before the start of the 2024 season.

The 24-year-old has been among the best at the club since new coach Shane Flanagan shifted him to the wing at the start of the year, but is known to be unhappy playing there.

Parramatta would happily take on his contract, estimated to be worth $800,000 a year, to solve their problems in the outside backs, and could take over his pay package immediately.

It is thought that the Dragons would countenance as swap for gun rookie Blaize Talagi, but the Eels would be reticent to let one of their brightest talents leave.

Gus says depleted Broncos ‘vulnerable’

Brisbane could be struggling to keep pace with the leading teams as they head into the State of Origin period if they struggle in the next six weeks without injured stars Reece Walsh and Payne Haas.

The Broncos are likely to have a heavy representative burden through the middle of the year and after a 1-2 start, last year’s grand finalists are looking vulnerable, according to former premiership-winning coach Phil Gould.

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“Out of the team that got through to the grand final last year, you find yourself with five or six different people … yet you’re being treated like the grand finalists and one of the top picks to win the premiership,” he said on his Six Tackles With Gus podcast.

“It’s not your team, and having that many players out of your team is problematic for them. They are vulnerable at the moment.

“When you get a cluster of them and they’re going to be out for an extended period, who are you exposing?

“Broncos have got a great development system and they’re able to hold players back longer and get them more grounding in the Queensland Cup than a lot of other clubs.

“They might be able to get over this and field a competitive side, but if that were to happen to some of the other teams … that’s why we get 50, 60 or 70-point scorelines.”

Broncos halfback Adam Reynolds has been passed fit to return from a knee injury against the Cowboys in Brisbane on Friday night but the skipper has been hampered by the problem in his two appearances this year.

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Brisbane legend Petero Civoniceva has challenged the forward pack to step up in the absence of Haas and do him proud.

“It is a notable loss when you have someone like Payne out of the forward pack but I think it is an exciting opportunity for everyone to step up and share the workload,” Civoniceva told AAP.

“It is a huge workload at that, but it is a chance for guys like Fletcher Baker and some of our young forwards to press their claims. It is a long season ahead. Injuries will happen but as a forward pack it is about sharing the load and I have no doubt they will do that.”

Second-rower Brendan Piakura will miss the Cowboys showdown with an ankle injury and will be replaced by Jaiyden Hunt. Veteran Corey Oates comes on to the bench in a utility role in place of prop Martin Taupau who has been dropped.

Katoa gets new deal at Dolphins

Impressive Dolphins halfback Isaiya Katoa wants to keep his jersey long-term and that desire has been rewarded by the club with a three-year contract extension.

The 20-year-old was left out of the NRL side for round one but returned in round two with a masterclass to inspire a 38-0 win over St George Illawarra.

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He will play No.7 away at Gold Coast on Saturday and has been earmarked by the Dolphins to lead them into the future.

Katoa was already on contract until the end of 2025 but chief executive Terry Reader said the Dolphins wrapped up the Tonga international to underline what a vital cog he is in the club’s future.

“Isaiya is a wonderful player and a wonderful young man,” Reader told AAP. 

“For a young guy who played first grade out of school, nothing fazes him. He is a gentleman and a key part of the future of the Dolphins.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 17: Isaiya Katoa of the Dolphins passes the ball during the round two NRL match between the Dolphins and St George Illawarra Dragons at Kayo Stadium, on March 17, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Isaiya Katoa passes. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

After leading the side to their win over the Dragons, Katoa said he was keen to keep his jersey after edging out Sean O’Sullivan for the position.

“Being a competitor, I’d be silly to say no,” Katoa said.

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“It is awesome we have the competition in the halves. We get along and, whoever gets picked, there is no bad blood between us.

“It was a massive step (against the Dragons) but I’m not going to dwell on it and give myself a clap. 

“I am going back to the drawing board to focus on what works for me and what I can get better at. 

“It is not about cheering myself on. One win does nothing for us.”

Katoa played 20 NRL matches in his rookie season last year, mostly at No.6, but his game management skills are highly regarded by his teammates as a halfback.

“The boys love him. When he is in the team there is more control and we can play off him,” fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow said.

“His kicking game is spot-on as well.”

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Coach Wayne Bennett has told his players to “perform or perish” this year and Katoa has embraced the message.

“He has been pretty ruthless with us in making sure that we are performing,” Katoa said.

“If we are not he is not going to reward us, but he didn’t put any pressure on me. 

“He just wanted me to take control of the team, get my defence right and kick well.”

Schneider a student of the game

Liam Martin can see similarities between Sean O’Sullivan, Jack Cogger and Brad Schneider. And it’s not just because Schneider will follow in the footsteps of the others and stand next to him on Penrith’s right edge against the Sydney Roosters.

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“They’re all students of the game,” Martin said. “They’re usually the hardest working players, like Sean and Coggs definitely were. And Schneider, he’s no different.”

Schneider will on Thursday night begin his own journey in the most coveted role for fringe first-grade halfback in the NRL when he deputises for an injured Nathan Cleary.

Two years ago it was O’Sullivan who signed up as Penrith’s back-up half. 

He played 11 games and by the time the Panthers won the 2022 premiership he was signed to be the Dolphins’ inaugural halfback.

Cogger’s rise was even more significant.

Signed to replace O’Sullivan as the back-up halfback, he played one of the most important roles in last year’s grand-final comeback.

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And if it hadn’t been for a big-money contract he signed with Newcastle, it’s likely he would have been the man Penrith viewed as their next No.6 next year.

“I think it’s maybe something to do with the culture,” Martin continued. 

“When they come here they fully immerse themselves. 

“Like you look at all of them.I think he’ll be fine and probably be the exact same as them and go out and kill it.”

Schneider has trod a similar path to Cogger.

The Adelaide-born playmaker got his chance in the NRL at Canberra three years ago, but like Cogger has spent a brief period plying his trade in the Super League.

The 23-year-old’s 12 games in England last year have given him valuable experience as a dominant half, ready to guide Penrith’s attack when required this year.

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“I just just want him to play his own game and fit into our system,” coach Ivan Cleary said. 

“That’s why he came here. He’s followed a couple of other halves that have done well in that in that role in the last couple years.”

Nathan Cleary’s absence on Thursday night will likely stretch into next week against Manly.

But it is not the only issue the three-time defending premiers are dealing with.

James Fisher-Harris will be back in the country for Thursday’s match after time in New Zealand for personal reasons, but has not recovered from a shoulder injury.

Scott Sorensen is also expected to miss four weeks with a knee injury, in an early-season hurdle for the Panthers.

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Ex-captains bounce back from demotion

North Queensland duo Jason Taumalolo and Chad Townsend could have kicked stones after being relieved of the captaincy, but their response has been crucial to the club’s unbeaten start to the season.

“They have both been great,” Cowboys coach Todd Payten told AAP ahead of the clash with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

“I know they were shocked. I know they were disappointed. They both accepted the decision and have shown great humility ever since by putting the team first and what is best for our club. 

“Their attitude towards their teammates and their profession with the way they play each week has been first class. I am thankful and admire them for it. They have both been really good for everyone.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 15: Jason Taumalolo of the Cowboys charges forward during the round seven NRL match between New Zealand Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium on April 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Jason Taumalolo. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Payten elected to elevate young gun five-eighth Tom Dearden and lock Reuben Cotter as co-captains after the side missed the finals last year, following a preliminary final finish in 2022. 

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Half Townsend and Cowboys’ 2015 premiership-winning forward Taumalolo are both closer to the end rather than beginning of their careers and the Cowboys decided to avoid a leadership vacuum and regenerate the team now. The response of the veterans has heartened Payten. 

Townsend, a 2016 title winner with Cronulla, kicked the crucial golden point field goal in round two in the 21-20 win over Newcastle and has provided excellent game management.

“He is just calm under pressure and really clear with his communication in the way he directs our side around the field,” Payten said.

“Everyone feels more confident when he is around. In that second half (against the Knights) he spoke really well at half-time and then nothing fazed him. 

“I wouldn’t say he had a great first half but he came out and put it to bed and played really well in that second half. He set up Jeremiah Nanai for a (late) try with a kick and then landed the field goal.

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“Chad has kept his game pretty simple and is professional with the way he looks after his body. He puts the team first and it is good to see him playing well.”

Starting prop Taumalolo has been managed due to a knee injury that he has shown great resilience to play with.

Payten has limited his minutes but they have been mighty in their impact. The coach is also taking a long-term view.

“My first thoughts are always around what is best for his knee and what is happening over the next week or two,” Payten said.

“I know Jase is frustrated because the warrior in him wants to play (more minutes).

“He also understands what it is all about.

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“We will see the benefits of that down the track whether it is a month’s time or two month’s time.”

with AAP

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