The Dragons have dodged a bullet by letting Lomax go – but only if they box clever to replace him


It’s rare in rugby league that you get a deal that suits all parties, but Zac Lomax’s departure from St George Illawarra might be exactly that.

It certainly suits the player, who gets to reinvent a stagnant career at another club, presumably one that isn’t as dysfunctional as the Dragons, and it suits whoever gets him, because they get an outside back with huge potential that likely hasn’t been realised as a result of said dysfunction.

It’s clear that, by letting him go, new Red V coach Shane Flanagan also thinks that the long-term benefits are there as he looks to rebuild the club in his image.

If, as has been widely reported, Lomax was on $800,000 a year, then it is certainly a good move from the Dragons to let him go.

These things are always to be taken with a pinch of salt, but that wage packet would make Lomax the best paid winger in the NRL – spoiler alert: he is not the best winger in the comp, and arguably not even the best at the Dragons.

As a centre, he was also among the best paid in the league but categorically is not in the top bracket on the field, and indeed, Flanagan himself is said to have moved Lomax to the wing because he was average one man in.

That might say more about how an elite talent has been treated than his actual potential value, but the point remains.

On form, $800,000 is well overs and the Dragons have done well to find someone else to pick up that pay cheque.

Flanagan is far from naïve in these matters. Ben Hunt, who would also gladly leave if allowed to, is being forced to play out his deal at the club because they know that they couldn’t replace him even with a top-end pay packet.

Shane Flanagan. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

There simply aren’t the halves out there to do so, whereas outside backs are also among the most readily replaceable players in the league, with stocks running very deep, as well as being one of the easier positions to blood talent.

The going rate for a middling OB is around $300,000 a year, raising to $500,000 for a good one, and there’s an argument to be made that, of the nine starting positions, centre is the least valuable, with wingers not far behind.

The Dragons also already have Savelio Tamale, a gun in NSW Cup and NSW Under-18s rep last year, and Sione Finau, who they debuted last year, plus Jesse Williams, the top scorer in the SG Ball under-18s comp, which St George Illawarra won.

The main player who has been linked with the club is last year’s Rookie of the Year, Panthers winger Sunia Turuva.

Turuva is undeniably talented and might be being scouted as a fullback option, where he has featured for Fiji, but given the long-term work put into Tyrell Sloan and his improvement so far under Flanagan, that mightn’t be the best option.

If the plan is to play Turuva as an outside back, then that is fraught with issues, because the record of buying outside backs from the Panthers in the hope that they replicate that form at a lower-placed club is, to be kind, patchy.

What we usually find is that the any player who leaves immediately drops in value by dint of no longer having the wider Panthers ecosystem around them, because Ivan Cleary runs a really cohesive, specialised system that asks backs to do one or two things very well while not asking them to do much else.

It’s the popular sequel to ‘what have we learned about buying forwards off the Melbourne Storm?’, a long-running farce that played widely around the NRL in the mid-2010s.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

If you actually wanted to ape the Panthers outside backs, you’d be better off getting your own kids, of which the Dragons have plenty, and investing in them rather than asking a player who thrived in a winning environment to import that with them.

Where Flanagan could actually find value is by getting the sort of gamechanger that he needs elsewhere in the team.

The obvious position is halfback, by finding a long-term successor to Hunt, and preferably one who could play alongside him for a year in the 6 jumper – sorry, Kyle – before taking over the top job.

That part is now supercharged with extra cash found from elsewhere, but currently isn’t going great guns.

Lewis Dodd, the star St Helens halfback, has joined teammate and fellow tyro Jack Welsby in giving Flanagan an answer that – and we’re wildly speculating here – ended with the phrase ‘not with a ten foot pole’.

The club could certainly look to Jake Clifford, currently not getting a game at the Cowboys, or Chad Townsend, who looks to be off next year and could move closer to home to finish his career.

They could even reach for the stars and offer Lachlan Ilias a lifeline, given that he is going nowhere fast at Souths, or approach Newcastle and wonder which of their many halves they would be willing to part with.

They could offer Tom Weaver, one of the best young 7s around, the chance that he currently isn’t getting at the Titans or, if they are looking beyond Hunt, go all in on the next big thing out of Western Sydney, Parramatta’s Ethan Sanders, who will become eligible to speak to other clubs when he his fifth NSW Cup appearance, scheduled for this weekend.

If they went for Sanders now, it might even work as a makeweight for Lomax to leave early, as Parra are his biggest suitors, and potentially help them land one Ryan Matterson with the starting 13 jumper, currently held by the decidedly average Tom Eisenhuth, a carrot.

Zac Lomax. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

Flanno could also invest in a hooker, given that the Dragons are currently fielding Jacob Liddle in the role.

Both of last year’s Grand Final hookers are available to talk to right now, with Mitch Kenny yet to extend at the Panthers and Billy Walters unsigned beyond this year at Brisbane.

The Broncos have Blake Mozer waiting in the wings and the Panthers have both Soni Luke and Luke Sommerton, so there is almost certainly a deal to be done.

If the Dragons go into 2025 without Lomax but with a spine of Sloan, Lomax, Sanders and Kenny, then they’ll undoubtedly be a stronger team.

One could add that they would then have Kyle Flanagan, a more than serviceable 14 who can cover both half and hooker, plus space to invest in the youth available to them in the outside backs.

These are all the options that Flanagan has on the table. Lomax isn’t one of them, but his cap space opens plenty of doors to the coach as he looks to flip a continually underperforming roster.

Fans might be sad to see the back of one of their few genuinely good players, but Lomax’s departure might be the making of this side yet.

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