Flanno sizes up mini Gal as possible Sharks successor
Shane Flanagan has previously chased two of the NRL's biggest back-row fish with an eye to eventually replacing Paul Gallen, but the Cronulla Sharks may have already landed his long-term successor.
At 179cm and 104kg, young lock Billy Magoulias is cut from the same cloth and in pretty much the same dimensions as Gallen, who stands at 180cm and weighs in at 105kg.
With the same appetite for metres and offloads, Magoulias made the 2017 under-20 team of the year and will come off the bench for the Sharks in this Saturday's pre-season trial against the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.
Flanagan has twice chased indomitable North Queensland Cowboys powerhouse Jason Taumalolo in recent years with a view to replacing one metre-eating middle man with another, while Cronulla also had a serious crack at South Sydney gun Angus Crichton, who is set to join the Sydney Roosters from 2019.
But the Sharks coach may also already have his next candidate for the No.13 jersey Gallen will eventually give up at the end of this year or next.
"Billy Magoulias, he's a very, very similar type of player to Gal when he was a bit younger," Flanagan said.
"He's got some ball-playing like Gal did at the start of his career, and he likes the rough stuff and the contact too.
"He could be the one for us with that position eventually and I'm expecting him to play NRL at some stage this year.
"While Gal's probably at the end of his career, Billy's very much at the start of it."
Flanagan is yet to broach Gallen's oft-speculated retirement date with the 36-year-old, and declared that if he and fellow veteran Luke Lewis decide they want to play on next year that: "I'm sure we'll find the money to fit them in".
NSW Origin star Wade Graham has already been pencilled in as Gallen's captaincy successor and will share the honours with him in 2018.
Along with bench forward Jayson Bukuya, Graham could well offer a temporary solution at the back of Cronulla's pack while 20-year-old Magoulias is readied for first grade.
Tongues were also set wagging this week when photos of Flanagan meeting with English international John Bateman and his Wigan Warriors teammate Ryan Sutton were published by Channel 7 after a scrimmage with the Sharks on Wednesday.
Bateman, who has played 11 Tests for England at centre and in the back row, is off contract at the end of 2018 and exploring his NRL options while Down Under for Saturday's international friendly with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Flanagan declined to comment on his meeting with the English duo.
It's understood the Sharks have a healthy amount of cap space free for next season, but they are confident they're onto a good thing with San Souci local Magoulias, who has been in their system since he was 15 and is contracted until the end of 2019.
Magoulias also won honours in last year's NYC academic team of the year as he works through a business degree at the University of Wollongong. But this summer he has taken to studying Gallen at close quarters in his first full NRL pre-season.
"It's a good opportunity to be around some experienced blokes so I'm just sitting back and learning and doing my best," Magoulias told Sharks TV recently of his first full summer with the top squad.
"Gal leads from the front. I just have to watch him, he doesn't have to say too much and I'm very lucky to be in the squad where I get to watch him turn up every day and do his thing.
"I just sit back and see the standards he lives and plays by every day."