New Canterbury halfback Kyle Flanagan is bracing himself to be targeted for special treatment by defenders after a running battle with Cronulla captain Wade Graham in Saturday night’s trial.
Flanagan was the victim of several heavy hits by Graham after kicks and received a penalty on one occasion, which sparked a melee as prop Ofahiki Ogden and other Bulldogs players came to his defence.
The 22-year-old half was also subjected to a verbal onslaught from Graham and other players during Canterbury's 16-12 trial win at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Flanagan said he expected to be singled out more regularly as he is now the main playmaker at Canterbury after playing alongside Luke Keary at Sydney Roosters last season and behind Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend at the Sharks in 2019.
"He found me," Flanagan said of Graham. "I was a bit stunned there. He was looking for me but he has played State of Origin and he has played for Australia so it is always good going up against him.
"I am the dominant kicker on the team and I can feel the heat coming so I will have to work on that in my own game and spread my kicking game and the workload across the whole team."
Flanagan happy to get through first hit-out
Corey Allan, Nick Cotric, Corey Waddell and Jack Hetherington also had their first hit-out for Canterbury and the new combinations looked better as the game went on.
The Bulldogs came back from 12-0 down at half-time after conceding two tries on their right edge, including one from a scrum, as Sharks five-eighth Matt Moylan combined with fullback Will Kennedy to put winger Ronaldo Mulitalo over in the 13th and 26th minutes.
"That was pretty disappointing but overall I thought it was a pretty good game," Flanagan said.
"We had a few attacking sets towards the back end of the first half and it felt pretty comfortable.
"It was pretty quick and the possession in the first 20 minutes was all Cronulla so we had to do a lot of defending."
Canterbury scored three second-half tries to snatch a late 16-12 win but the margin could have been more comfortable if Flanagan had opted for a goal kick in front of the posts after Sharks hooker Blayke Brailey was penalised for breaking early from a scrum.
Instead, the Bulldogs opted to make use of the new rule allowing them to opt to re-pack the scrum 10 metres from the try line but they failed to score.
"If it is 16-16 you would kick for goal to win the game so teams won’t break early and they scored a try off a scrum so I think that will come into play," Flanagan said. "I think we will need to do a lot of work on our attacking scrums."
Cotric left the field in the 60th minute with an ankle injury but he is expected to be fit for the round-one clash with Newcastle on March 12, while the Bulldogs hope five-eighth Jake Averillo overcomes an elbow problem that sidelined him from the trial.
Hooker Jeremy Marshall-King (foot), prop Dylan Napa (knee) and second-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner (ankle) are racing the clock to be fit for the trip to Newcastle, while England international Luke Thompson is suspended.
"I thought Nick Cotric was pretty good, he had some strong backfield carries and I am still working on my combination with Corey Allan," Flanagan said.
"Hopefully Jake Averillo comes back in the next few weeks for round one but I thought it was a good start."
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