Canterbury general manager Phil Gould has hit back at claims the Bulldogs breached their duty of care over the decision to pick Kyle Flanagan for this weekend’s match against Penrith.
The Bulldogs have been under fire from some sections of the media since Flanagan was named in the squad earlier this week, with suggestions the move is a “disgrace” from a club that has “humiliated” the 23-year-old.
Part of the criticism dates back to last season when Flanagan broke down in an emotional press conference after he was forced to address questions surrounding his mid-game benching.
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Flanagan’s inclusion at No.7 this week comes as the Bulldogs search for a much-needed win against reigning premiers Penrith, while currently sitting with one victory and three defeats.
Speaking on his weekly Six Tackles With Gus podcast, Gould let loose on those in the media criticising Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett in particular, as well as the club.
“There has been a campaign from certain sections of the media towards our coach in the off-season, for reasons best known to themselves,” Gould said.
“This is a rather extraordinary attack on Trent Barrett, on the club, and I’m trying to understand the motivation for that. What they don’t reveal is their motivation for this or where they got their facts for it.
“There is nothing within our club that remotely supports anything they say. They certainly haven’t done their research. Not that I ever want to be drawn into a response from them because that’s exactly what they want. I can say this has been nothing but disgraceful journalism.
“I’d much prefer they come after me more than anything because, to be honest, I’m the one that’s controlled the Kyle Flanagan off-season and preparation, and I’m the one that’s made the decision on where and when he comes back into first grade.”
Flanagan mustered nine games with Cronulla across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, before signing a two-year deal with the Sydney Roosters, who had won the premiership the year before.
But the Roosters, who in 2020 were chasing a third-straight title before crashing out in the semi-finals, shafted Flanagan with a year to run on his contract, leaving some experts, including league Immortal Andrew Johns, to believe he had been made a scapegoat in the Tricolours’ demise.
“Kyle Flanagan was a very high-profile purchase for this club well before I get here… nothing went very well here at the Bulldogs last year,” Gould said.
“They had a very poor season… Kyle found himself out of the first-grade side at different stages last season and probably only played half the year in first grade.
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“The problem for a lot of these kids last year is if they weren’t in the first-grade side, they weren’t playing football, there wasn’t NSW Cup football or a lower grade football to go back and keep themselves in form.
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“I’m loathed to respond to this, I don’t ever react to this type of thing, but this is so wrong it’s not funny.”
Gould says since he joined the Bulldogs last season, he’s taken the “personal” responsibility of making sure Flanagan makes it back into first-grade football.
“Kyle Flanagan is a key part of this organisation, he’s a key part of our roster. He’s our highest-paid playmaker and that’s no good for any club when they’re not in the first-grade side,” Gould said.
“One of my things was to get to the bottom of that. Speaking to the coaches, I actually also rang Trent Robinson and Nick Politis at the Roosters to get some history and background on them… I knew a lot of people at the Sharks and a lot at the Roosters to get some background on him.
“I also had a meeting with his father (Shane Flanagan) and his manager back in September to get their take on where things were at with Kyle and his football.
“We discussed it, and I discussed with them that I would take a personal interest in this.
“Our aim was to get him back playing first grade, enjoying his football and playing the best football he possibly could. But I asked them to leave it to me, we didn’t want too many coaches from the outside interfering.
“We just needed him to settle down here and enjoy his football, which he has done. He has trained extremely hard.
“Kyle Flanagan from what I see, and I see most of their training sessions – I’m not part of the coaching staff, I don’t do coaching but I’m around the sessions a lot – Kyle has been heavily involved right throughout the off-season in just about every training session that we’ve had. He’s at every team meeting, he’s at every video session. He’s an integral part of what the club is doing.”
Gould also touched on how Flanagan’s preparation this season has been interrupted due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
“It was an interrupted off-season for the club because Matt Burton didn’t turn up – he was the last person who turned up because he played with a premiership-winning side. He was entitled to his break,” he said.
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“The team left early for Christmas because we had a COVID-19 outbreak. When we came back after Christmas, we only had a handful of players available.
“Finally we got ourselves back to full squad training and then Matt Burton got COVID and missed the first trial game. Around that time, having watched Kyle trial – I asked the coach to trial Kyle in reserve grade, I wanted him away from the spotlight and I wanted to watch him and see what he wanted to do.
“I watched his first two trials and then I spent two hours with Kyle one morning and had a talk to him about his life, his football, what he thought he was doing, the pressure he was feeling, and he was obviously feeling some stress.”
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Gould said during his one-on-one conversation with the playmaker, he told him his best interests at the time were to go back to reserve grade.
“He’s a very passionate and emotional kid. There was one point where he said, ‘I love this so much, it’s my life, it’s everything’,” Gould explained.
“I said, ‘well we need to stop there. It’s not your life, it’s a part of your life. It’s a big part of your life at this stage of your life, but it’s not going to control or define your life for the rest of your existence… the way you’re going at the moment, in 15 years you’re going to look back and regret the way you stressed and worried about this’.
“That’s where he was.
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“I said, ‘you tell me what you think a halfback is? What sort of halfback you think you are? What it is you’re trying to do on the field? You explain it to me, I’ve watched you through the first couple of trial games’.
“He’s a football student, he really loves the game and he sits there and articulates it.
“I said, ‘well Kyle, whatever it is you think you’re doing and whatever it is you want, that’s not happening, is it?’, and he agreed. I said, ‘at the moment, I don’t think NRL is the place for you and I don’t think you can help the team. They can’t help you right at the moment. We need to reset your career and that could mean some time in reserve grade’.
“I told Trent Barrett and said Kyle is unavailable for first grade until further notice. I wanted him to back to NSW Cup.
“I have dealt pretty much exclusively with the reserve grade coach David Tangata-Toa… I don’t get involved with the coaching, but I talk to David and he has certainly nurtured him along the way.
“Over the first weeks of the competition, Kyle has improved. Our reserve grade is undefeated… it’s been scoring a lot of points and Kyle has been a key figure in that.
“When I looked at the statistics and data, he was in the top three or four halfbacks playing, and by last weekend he graduated by being number one.”
Gould then explained how it all went down earlier this week when he got the call asking for Flanagan to return to first grade.
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“When I get a call from the coach (Barrett) on Monday morning asking if he could pick Kyle (for first grade), I said ‘why do you want to do that?'” Gould said.
“He gave me the reasons… Trent Barrett’s reasons were clear and I said Kyle was ready for NRL.
“It’s my responsibility as to how Kyle’s been prepared for this season and to when he comes back into the NRL. Not Trent Barret, not the Bulldogs, that’s me.
“This vitriolic attack on our coach and club just won’t be tolerated. If they want to come at anyone, come at me.
“Kyle Flanagan doesn’t need this type of pressure coming into the game and he was getting no pressure from us, and he’s under no pressure this weekend when he plays with us.
“He’s our highest-paid playmaker in the club, he’s ready. This is what he wants to do and this is what he’s prepared to do.”
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