Dragons’ ‘major selection headache’ after guilty verdict

A ball is yet to be kicked under Shane Flanagan‘s reign as St George Illawarra coach but the club’s new mentor is already facing a major selection headache.

That headache came about when talented five-eighth Talatau Amone was found guilty of assault on Wednesday, leading to the Dragons standing down the 21-year-old until further notice.

Flanagan is now tasked with finding a new man to link with Ben Hunt in the halves in the NRL 2024 season.

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Making the situation even more bleak is Hunt is seeing out the rest of his Dragons contract begrudgingly, having had a release request rejected in June.

Veteran utility Moses Mbye left the Dragons for the Super League in July, while young five-eighth Jayden Sullivan landed at Wests Tigers in August after receiving permission from St George Illawarra to look elsewhere with two years remaining on his contract.

Flanagan could fill the No.6 role with a player on the Dragons’ books, or pull in a player from another club.

Options on the Dragons’ books

Kyle Flanagan

The Dragons coach could hand the No.6 jumper to his son Kyle, who signed with his fourth NRL club when he inked a two-year deal with St George Illawarra in September. But the 25-year-old has only played a smattering of games at five-eighth and is far more suited to halfback.

Jack Bird

In Jack Bird, the Dragons have an attacking weapon who’s represented NSW and won an NRL premiership. The 28-year-old is so versatile that he’s played in the centres, second row, at lock, and at fullback, five-eighth and halfback. Under Flanagan at Cronulla in 2015, he was the Sharks’ go-to five-eighth. But he’s widely regarded better as a centre or back-rower, rather than five-eighth.

Watch the Kangaroos take on Samoa and New Zealand in the 2023 Pacific Championships on Nine and 9Now.

Paul Turner

Another option at the Dragons is Paul Turner, a 23-year-old who’s played 11 NRL games with the Warriors, Gold Coast and St George Illawarra. He largely split his time between five-eighth and fullback in the NSW Cup this year. In his only NRL game of the season, against the Raiders in round 19, he played at fullback.

Options on the open market

Drew Hutchison

Drew Hutchison is on the open market after failing to score another contract at the Roosters this year. The 28-year-old has done a workmanlike job as a utility across a 75-match NRL career with the Dragons and Roosters, playing at halfback, five-eighth, hooker and centre. He was the Tricolours’ chief five-eighth in 2021, pairing with Sam Walker in the halves after Luke Keary suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

Kurt Mann

Kurt Mann is another former Dragon Flanagan could call upon. The 30-year-old utility has played 178 NRL games but is looking for a new home after failing to snare a new contract with the Knights this year. He’s played in just about every position in his NRL career.

Brandon Wakeham

Is Flanagan tossing up whether to pursue Brandon Wakeham? The 24-year-old Fijian international is on the search for a new club after being let go by Wests Tigers this year. He’s shown promising signs as a five-eighth and halfback across a 40-game NRL career.

Contracted but out of favour

Anthony Milford

The former $1 million-a-year Broncos five-eighth is contracted to Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins until the end of 2024, but he’s sitting behind Isaiya Katoa and Kodi Nikorima in the club’s No.6 pecking order. 9News reporter Ben Dobbin said in September that Bennett had told Milford his time in the NRL was over. Dobbin also reported the 29-year-old had been offered a three-year Super League deal but rejected it. Perhaps the veteran could become a Dragon and pull on the club’s No.6 jumper.

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