Dragons coach Shane Flanagan has declared his side will play finals next year and revealed his son Kyle will get first crack at five-eighth.
Several senior players started pre-season training two weeks early on Thursday, determined to atone for the club’s poor 2023 campaign.
St George Illawarra still have five spots available in their top 30 and Flanagan told foxsports.com.au he’ll be “really active” in the player market between now and Christmas.
Flanagan admitted he’s concerned with his lack of options at fullback and confirmed he wants to sign either Roosters superstar Joey Manu or Sharks utility Connor Tracey.
Tyrell Sloan will start 2024 in the No. 1 jersey, while Flanagan will also trial Zac Lomax whose halves aspirations have been doused.
The premiership-winning coach revealed negotiations are ongoing to extend Jaydn Su’a, who is one of several players Flanagan wants to see return to the Origin arena in 2024.
Foxsports.com.au spoke with Dragons coach Shane Flanagan on his first day in the job about how he plans on reinvigorating the underperforming club
The Dragons have played finals just twice in the past decade and haven’t finished in the top eight since 2018.
After years of underachieving, Flanagan is determined to make the club reach its potential and he was pleasantly surprised on day one of preseason on Thursday.
Flanagan arrived in Wollongong and was greeted by a group of senior players who had turned up for preseason a fortnight early.
Zac Lomax, Jayden Su’a, Blake Lawrie and Ben Murdoch-Masila and Francis Molo weren’t due back until mid-November but they wanted to start with the rookies on Flanagan’s first day.
“A few of the older boys, about five or six of them, came back early. They weren’t due back for a week or two which is a good sign,” Flanagan said.
“They just did it off their own bat, they all just decided they wanted to come back early after a disappointing year last year, so they wanted to start when everybody else started.
“We get lots back next week and then the boys playing internationals start back later in the month.
“It has been busy preparing for today but we’re off and running now and there’s a lot of hard work in front of us.”
Flanagan inherited a roster from former coach Anthony Griffin that needs bolstering to compete for premierships, and the new coach admits the task has proven extremely difficult.
The Dolphins’ entry into the NRL this year triggered rival clubs to lock down their best players, leaving very few stars on the market for 2024 and 2025.
The only players the Dragons have been able to sign since Flanagan was appointed in June are his son Kyle (Bulldogs) and Hame Sele (Rabbitohs).
“It’s definitely been tough, it’s been real tough,” Flanagan said.
“We want to make sure we get quality players at our club, and some quality ones come off in 2025, but because of the Dolphins and different things that happened, there’s not a lot of players on the market.”
A handful of superstars hit the open market on Wednesday and Flanagan is making a bold bid for the NRL’s No. 1 free agent in Roosters gun Joey Manu.
“I don’t think he’ll leave the Roosters but I’ve spoken to (his manager) and if he was considering leaving and wanted to have a crack at fullback then we’d love to talk to him,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan is concerned by his lack of depth at fullback – with Tyrell Sloan the Dragons’ only specialist – and he’s also looking at Sharks utility Connor Tracey.
“Sloan is a good player and only young but obviously with injury and form, I need someone else who can do that job,” Flanagan said.
“I can’t go in with just Sloan. We’re going to trial Lomax there a little bit but for me I need two fullbacks. Most squads will have an option there, the good teams will have a big No. 1 then an option that can slot in there.
“I haven’t really got an option at the moment, so that’s why Manu and Tracey fit in.”
Warriors front-rower prop Addin Fonua-Blake requested an immediate release on Thursday and Flanagan is dead keen on signing the 2023 Dally M Prop of the Year.
But it’s not just the big names that Flanagan is targeting. The veteran coach also emphasised there are plenty of NRL players who aren’t necessarily household names, but are out of a contract in 2024 and on the Dragons’ radar.
“We’ve got about five spots available. We’ll probably keep two so I’m only looking at two or three, no need to go out and panic buy,” he said.
“We’ll be really active between now and Christmas and I’m sure we’ll fill a couple of those spots.
“There’s heaps of blokes who played NRL this year and don’t have a contract next year.”