Phil Gould has revealed he is behind the Bulldogs’ decision to bring Kyle Flanagan back into the 17 for Sunday’s clash with the reigning premiers.
Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett has copped plenty of heat ever since he named Flanagan in the No.7 jersey on Tuesday.
Flanagan endured a rocky start to his time in Belmore last season.
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He became emotional when fronting the media days after being benched midgame. Then later that afternoon he was left out of Barrett’s 17 completely for that round.
Flanagan was recalled later in the season before being axed again and then recalled again.
Barrett went with Jake Averillo for the first two rounds before axing him in favour of Brandon Wakeham. But after a 44-nil thrashing for the Storm the Bulldogs have changed their halves again — this time with Flanagan coming in to partner Matt Burton.
Barrett has been accused of having no duty of care for Flanagan and throwing him to the wolves.
However, speaking on Six Tackles with Gus, Gould threw his support behind Flanagan before revealing that it was ultimately him who had the final call on the 23-year-old’s return to the top grade.
“You’d like to think that from now on, Kyle Flanagan can establish himself as the No.1 playmaker in our club and hold on to the No.7 jersey for as long as possible,” he said.
“That’s what he has been bought to do, that’s what he’s been trained to do.
“Now, I think he’s come giant strides in the last month, he’s gone back to reserve grade, played a game that’s more fitting for him rather than come into a system to serve other players.
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“When he returns to the first grade side this week, it’s not about Kyle Flanagan fitting in with Matt Burton and the rest of the team; it’s about the rest of the team fitting in with Kyle Flanagan, let me tell you.
“Kyle Flanagan will play his game and we’ll adapt to that. That’s what you do when you have a chief playmaker, Kyle Flanagan will be the chief playmaker in the side.
“Right now, from what I’ve seen over the last 18 months, he’s more ready now than what he has ever been.
“There is absolutely no pressure on him this weekend, this is not a one-off, not a perform-or perish type situation. He’s been given time to relax, he’s been given time away from the spotlight, he’s been given time to find his game and find his legs again. He’s produced some outstanding numbers on the weekend.
“This rubbish that he’s thrown to the wolves — what’s the alternative? Kyle Flanagan is not a rookie, he’s turned 24 this year, he’s played 43 first-grade games … Kyle Flanagan is the best credentialed, the most experienced and the best prepared of all the halfbacks in our club to take on this role, not only for this week but into the future.
“That’s been the program he’s been on since I arrived here last October. I’ve included his father, his manager and Kyle in all of those conversations along the way.
“It’s not Trent Barrett who has made a decision on when he comes back to first grade. Trent wanted him in the side, but he came and asked me for permission to do it. I could have easily said no if I didn’t think he was ready. I said yes.”
Gould also revealed that he had a two-hour meeting with Flanagan after the trials.
“I said at the moment, ‘I don’t think the NRL is the place for you, I don’t think you can help the team and you can’t help them at the moment. But we need to reset you career and that could mean some time in reserve grade,’” he said.
Flanagan has been impressive for the undefeated Dogs in New South Wales Cup over the last month. Just last week he scored a try, set up another, ran for 135 metres and had two linebreaks.
Both Barrett and Gould have been keeping a close eye on him in reserve grade and the latter has now given the OK to play him.
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“So it’s my responsibility for how Kyle has been prepared for this season and when he comes back into the NRL,” Gould said.
“Not Trent Barrett, not the Bulldogs. That’s me. If (the club’s critics) want to come at me with duty of care and coaching and development of players — and I’ve developed a few players in my career — then I’m happy to debate them anywhere, anytime.
“But this vitriolic and vehement attack on our coach and on the club, it 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. He’s under no pressure from us and no pressure when he plays for us. It’s not up to Kyle Flanagan to turn us around, hopefully we can be part of the process of helping Kyle Flanagan become a regular NRL player.
“If this kid’s name was Kyle Smith, do you think we would be going through this? I can tell you mentally, physically and football wise, he’s the best he’s been in a long time.”