Dragons hunting hooker/half combo player, not Schuster

Jasper Bruce |

St George Illawarra will not pursue Josh Schuster (right), whose NRL career is in limbo.
St George Illawarra will not pursue Josh Schuster (right), whose NRL career is in limbo.

St George Illawarra hope to fill their final roster spot with a utility able to play both hooker and halfback as coach Shane Flanagan formally rules out targeting Josh Schuster.

Zac Lomax’s impending release has left the Dragons cashed-up for 2025 and beyond, and with breathing room to continue making long-term roster decisions.

The talented Schuster hit the market this week, granted immediate permission to leave a Manly side favouring Ben Trbojevic over Schuster in the back row, and with Luke Brooks to play at five-eighth.

Just 10 months after signing Schuster to a three-year deal worth about $2.4 million, the Sea Eagles are likely to kick in part of the 22-year-old’s wage to shift him from the club.

The Dragons had already ruled themselves out of the pursuit for Schuster this week, with Flanagan revealing his plans for the Dragons’ last top-30 spot on Saturday.

Saints lost utility Moses Mbye midway through last season and now have only the inexperienced Jesse Marschke and Connor Muhleisen as back-up for first-choice rake Jacob Liddle.

Even then, Muhleisen is on the Dragons’ supplementary list, so he is not expected to play regular first grade this year.

Flanagan is hopeful any prospective recruit could also cover the halves, given Junior Amone’s contract was torn up in the pre-season and Ben Hunt is likely to be called away on State of Origin duty again this year.

“We’re not interested (in Schuster), we’ve only got one spot left and it’s probably not the position we’re looking for,” Flanagan said.

“We are looking for a hooker/half. (Schuster) can play in the halves, but he definitely can’t play hooker.”

An assistant at Manly last year, Flanagan hoped Schuster could shake off fitness and form struggles when he returned from personal leave and found a new club.

“He’s a good kid, Josh,” Flanagan said.

“He’s got some things to tidy up off the field and I just wish him well and hopefully he gets that done immediately. He’s got the talent, that’s for sure.”

Liddle will bring up 100 NRL games when the Dragons face his former side Wests Tigers on Sunday for the chance to snap back to form.

The Dragons have endured an up-and-down season, handily beaten in three of five games, but scoring an impressive win over high-flying Manly two weeks ago.

“I can’t really pinpoint it, but it’s something that we’re working on and addressing,” Flanagan said of the inconsistencies.

‘Maybe it’s a psychological problem with the players, what they’ve been through over the last couple of years. Winning’s a habit and you’ve got to make it a habit.

“You’ve got to train well and prepare well. I think we have been training well and preparing pretty well, but we’ve got to just break some cycles.”