Stanley's future up in the air

Like most young players today, Kyle Stanley is reluctant to talk contracts before he has even established his place in the NRL. Yet the classy Dragons rookie is well aware of the intriguing sequence of events that Wayne Bennett’s impending departure promises to set into motion in the coming months.

One of three key St George Illawarra backs yet to be signed for 2011 – alongside Matt Cooper and Darius Boyd – Stanley’s future remains the most clouded as he battles to cement his spot in the top 17. 

Despite impressing in seven NRL appearances last season and scoring a clever try in last Sunday’s 25-12 win over the Warriors in New Zealand, the 20-year-old faces the unfortunate scenario of having little room to move with Jamie Soward locked into his preferred five-eighth role and Cooper and Mark Gasnier the club’s long-term centre pairing.

“It shows how much depth we’ve got at the club,” Stanley told NRL.com ahead of this weekend’s crucial trip to Newcastle, where they’ll meet an opponent sure to be fired up following Nathan Tinkler’s takeover overnight.

“I love to get my hands on the ball, so I love five-eighth. And I don’t mind playing a bit of centre either – I played a few games there last year and enjoyed it. But I’ll just wait and see what happens.

“To be honest, the whole contract thing isn’t on my mind at the moment. I’m just here to play footy. All of that will just look after itself and whatever comes for me is a bonus.” 

The likelihood is that Stanley’s future will be determined by his team-mates, with Cooper hoping to sign one last contract at the club he has spent the past 12 seasons. 

Boyd has expressed a desire to follow Bennett wherever he may end up next season – probably back at Brisbane – but were he to stay it could well be Stanley heading north instead in search of Darren Lockyer’s vacant No.6 jersey. 

The highly rated youngster credits Bennett for much of his progress over the past 12 months and admits his departure will be a huge loss for the Dragons. 

“He has had a massive influence,” Stanley explained. “He is obviously one of the best coaches of the decade and he has just simplified my game to my standard. 

“He makes it a lot easier to play with confidence as well. He gives you a lot of confidence – especially as a young bloke coming through. “He isn’t just our coach – he is one of our mates. That’s how he comes across.” 

Asked about the prospect of following Bennett next season, Stanley said: “I’m not too sure… He hasn’t made his mind up yet so I’ll just see the year out and then see what happens at the end of the year. “Having said that, the Dragons looked after me through some injuries when I was younger. It was my junior club and I would love to stay here and play my career here. But we’ll see what happens. 

“Like I said, I just want to see the end of the year out and hopefully everything is sweet. Anything that comes is a bonus – as long as I’m playing footy I guess.” 

This season, Stanley says, is all about taking his opportunities. And although it is unlikely that he will be spending too much time in the halves, his versatility has already proved beneficial with his two games in 2011 so far coming in the absence of injured hooker Dean Young. “It’s always good to have that option when you’re fighting for spots,” he said. 

“I always play different positions at training. If Coops or one of the halves are out I just fill in there, and if they’re OK before the match, they obviously get that spot back. “With Dean Young out with injury I’ve played a few games this year filling in at hooker, and hopefully I’ll get a few more. I just fill in wherever I’m needed. 

“But I don’t see this year as being any different to last year – I just want to get on the field and play first grade, do my job for the team and when I do get my chance I want to take it with both hands.” 

Late NRL news:

- The Knights face an anxious wait ahead of Sunday’s clash with the premiers with three players still in doubt. Richie Fa’aoso remains the greatest concern after suffering a heavy concussion last week and a decision on his fitness won’t be made until at least tomorrow. Junior Sa’u (groin) and Evarn Tuimavave (shin) are also in doubt. 

- Nathan Merritt will move to fullback against Manly tonight to cover for Rhys Wesser who has a hamstring strain. Kane Morgan will make his debut on the wing. 

- North Queensland is yet to make a decision on the fitness of new signing Antonio Winterstein ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Parramatta. Winterstein suffered a broken jaw in the pre-season and is yet to make his Cowboys debut