Bulldogs team-mates have backed Kyle Flanagan to be the organising playmaker that they have missed, while freeing star recruit Matt Burton to focus on his running game in Sunday night’s clash with premiers Penrith at CommBank Stadium.
Flanagan will be the third halfback tried by Canterbury coach Trent Barrett this season as he attempts to find a playmaker to complement Burton and players believe the pairing for the Panthers clash is likely to be the best.
The former Cronulla and Roosters halfback has spent the opening month of the season in the NSW Cup and has steered the Bulldogs to first place with four wins from as many matches.
After a 6-4 defeat of the Cowboys in the opening round, the Bulldogs suffered narrow 16-10 and 13-12 losses to the Broncos and Sea Eagles before last weekend’s 44-0 capitulation to the Storm.
Jake Averillo started at halfback in the first two matches before being shifted to centre, which is more suited to his running game, and Fiji international Brandon Wakeham took over the No.7 role against Manly and Melbourne.
However, it is felt that Burton will be better served playing alongside an organising halfback like Flanagan as his strengths are running the ball and his kicking game.
“That is what Burto does really well,” Canterbury captain Josh Jackson said. “He runs the footy and he has got that really good kicking game, which I think will help Kyle’s game as well.
“I think it will take a little bit of pressure off Kyle, whereas I think last year he was expected to do the majority of the kicking. Kyle has just got to come in and play to his strengths and do what he does well.
“For us I think that is just managing the game and steering us around and organising the team. I think that is something we have lacked the last couple of weeks, particularly with our attack, so I think he is going to come in and help with that.”
Prop Paul Vaughan said the 23-year-old deserved his chance after performing well in the NSW Cup and he was confident Flanagan and Burton would develop a good combination.
“Kyle knows what he has had to work on and I think for us it is pretty important to have a natural No.7, which is maybe what we have been missing,” Vaughan said.
“His game management is great, and his direction is one of his strengths as well. He has got a pretty good pack around him so I think he will steer the boys around pretty well.”
Star winger Josh Addo-Carr rejected suggestions that playing the Panthers in his NRL recall would be too tough an assignment for Flanagan and said his attitude while biding his time had been impressive.
“If Kyle is on, then I feel like the whole team will be on,” Addo-Carr said. “He will be our halfback on the weekend and we need that dominant half to step up for us and I feel like Kyle has done that in reserve grade.
“You are playing rugby league to challenge yourself and what a way to come back into the team than against the Penrith Panthers. They have been a terrific side for the last couple of years and if I was Kyle I would see that as a challenge.
“You can build a lot of confidence going back in reserve grade and coming back up to first grade, so I am really excited for him. We need to perform as a team to help Kyle out.”