Dragons gun defends controversial Hook call
St George Illawarra centre Zac Lomax has given a ringing endorsement of his new skipper Ben Hunt, saying there was nobody else who should be leading the team in 2021.
"I don't think there's anyone more deserving," Lomax told Wide World of Sports.
The Dragons will kick-off their season next Sunday against the Sharks, in Hunt's first game as the new captain.
It's an appointment that has attracted criticism, with Anthony Griffin choosing to give the $1.2 million-a-season star more responsibility despite a perception that he is not a natural leader and has failed to live up to his lofty price tag since arriving at the Dragons three years ago.
"You go and make a guy, who looked like he struggled with the pressure, captain when he seems to have struggled," Fox Sports commentator Michael Ennis said recently.
"[He] played his best footy when he came off the bench, out of the limelight and being able to just play footy. Or [his best footy is] at dummy half where he doesn't have to control the game plan, he can just play reaction footy and that's what Ben Hunt is great at."
Yet that criticism is at odds with the Dragons players, with Lomax making a convincing case for why Hunt has got the 'c' next to his name.
"He's the most-experienced at the club and he's one of our best players. He cares so much about the team and his own performances and I'm sure he's going to have a big season. We as players and teammates have to do our best to support him," Lomax said.
The Dragons' Round One match will be a first hit-out for new signing Jack Bird, who Lomax highlighted as a standout among the new recruits at training so far.
"He's been unreal. He's one of the best players in the comp once he's fit and I don't think it's going to take him long to get there," Lomax said.
"You've all seen what he can do - I think he won a comp at 19 and he wasn't just there filling a number, he was one of their best players."
Bird has struggled with fitness since leaving Cronulla for the Brisbane Broncos, where he played just 17 games in three years.
"If we can get him at his best he's going to be a major attribute for us," Lomax said.
"We've been working together pretty well, but the best thing about him is that you can put him at hooker, five-eighth, in the forwards and he'll do a job for you."
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In terms of their on-field product, Lomax said that the edict from new coach Griffin has been simple - concentrate on the basics, and good things will come.
"He just strips it back a fair bit. He's very simple in the way that he says things, he gets them across pretty easy," he said.
"And no disrespect to other coaches, but they've got different philosophies and work in different ways."
The Dragons will be desperate to improve after a disastrous 2020 campaign, but Lomax said there haven't been any make-or-break targets set for them yet.
"There's been nothing set in stone. He's just instilled some belief in us, and that's what you want. I think that's the main thing you want from your coach, to put confidence in you.
"I'm confident that leading into round one we're going to be well prepared."
But with many pre-season predictions giving the Dragons no shot at the finals, and among the favourites for the spoon at most betting agencies, are the team relishing the underdogs tag?
"Absolutely. I think it's good that we don't have that pressure on us. We see ourselves as a team to beat and I feel like we're building towards that - but we're all sitting equal-first at the moment," Lomax said.
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