Adam Elliott has declared Canterbury forwards have a responsibility to protect new halfback Kyle Flanagan as he warned playmakers were more likely to be targeted under the NRL’s new rules.
Flanagan complained about Cronulla captain Wade Graham "trying to help take my head off" in Saturday night’s 16-12 trial win at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium and Elliott said it was up to the Bulldogs forwards to look after him.
"I think that anyone who is going to be an on-ball half in the comp this year, particularly with how fast it is going to be, [rival] teams are going to send as much traffic as they can at those players," Elliott said.
"I think you have to take a bit of pride in your forwards and in your pack that it’s going to be hard to target those players."
Fronting the media for the first time since the Bulldogs announced last month that he would seek professional help for alcohol issues after an incident involving former teammate Michael Lichaa and his fiancée, Elliott only wanted to discuss on-field matters.
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"I think the club has dealt with that. It’s a private matter and out of all due respect to everyone involved I want to keep it that way," Elliott said.
After playing his first match since rupturing a biceps muscle in the July 5 clash with South Sydney, Elliott said he was now focused on Canterbury’s opening round trip to Newcastle next Friday and playing alongside Flanagan.
"He is a lot tougher than I thought and as a back-rower that is all you can ask from your halves," Elliott said of Flanagan, who joined the Bulldogs after being released just one year into his contract with Sydney Roosters.
"He has owned the move from the Roosters, he hasn’t shied away from any of that. He has fronted up when he has needed to.
"He has really bought in and he has taken a lot of accountability from the way we have trained and particularly how our attack has looked over the pre-season."
Flanagan was subjected to some extra attention from his former Sharks teammates on Saturday night, with Graham lining him up twice for heavy hits after he kicked the ball.
"If I was playing half I would want to know that I can trust my back-rower and that he was going to turn up when the tough stuff was ready," Elliott said.
"Flanno is certainly aware that I am going to be looking after him out on the field, and a lot of the boys. It’s your halfback and it’s the way the game has been for a long time.
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"You want them each week to look forward to playing alongside you and have that confidence in you that they are going to be protected, that they are going to be able to get on the front foot and we are going to have a good partnership together."
Flanagan welcomed Elliott’s comments and said he wanted to earn the respect of the senior Canterbury players.
"I wish he could have been next to me when Wade Graham was trying to take my head off on the weekend, but I appreciate that," Flanagan said.
"I feel very comfortable in this football team and hearing that is pretty special. It works both ways, they have got to turn up when I am trying to put them through a hole and they have got to have my back as well."
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