Pangai Junior set for round 16 debut

Published 11:47am 12 June 2024

Pangai Junior set for round 16 debut
Words by Kylie Knight

Dolphins NRL Head Coach Wayne Bennett says new recruit Tevita Pangai Junior will play against the Storm in round 16, but first his side has to face a red-hot Sharks team in their first Sydney game of the season.

The Dolphins take on the Sharks tomorrow night (7.50pm kick off), before playing the Storm at Suncorp Stadium on June 21.

See photos from today's training session at the end of this story

It will be a tough couple of weeks for the side, who suffered a golden point loss to the Raiders in round 13 and are coming off a bye.

Bennett brushed off any suggestion the next couple of weeks would be a tough test for the Dolphins.

“I thought we’ve been playing a lot of tough games … I didn’t think this week was going to be any different to the weeks we’ve had. (We had) New Zealand two weeks ago … a pretty tough game, and Canberra was tough here,” he said after training today.

“It’s just the season. We’re ready for it, prepared well and see how it goes after that.”

The Dolphins will be without Captain Jesse Bromwich who is still nursing a rib cartilage injury. Kodi Nikorima will lead the side out.

“He’s really grown as a player, as a bloke and he’s really responsible these days. He means a lot to the team and his communication and what he does as well,” Bennett said.

Bennett and Assistant Coach Kristian Woolf both spoke to Nikorima at the end of today’s training session. So, what was Bennett’s message to Nikorima?

“What my message to all my captains is – lead from the front, don’t talk … do it,” he said.

Felise Kaufusi and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (Hammer) return to the side after strong performances for Queensland in State of Origin game one. Tabuai-Fidow was scintillating, scoring three tries.

“He wasn’t running flat out in the end. The GPs told us that. He still had more speed which he didn’t use but that’s Hammer. He just uses what he has to,” Bennett said.

“He’s only got to run as fast as he has to … he got three tries.”

Pangai Junior set for round 16 debut

Timely arrival

Pangai Junior will be a boost to the front row with Tom Gilbert and Thomas Flegler out for an extended period.

Pangai Junior didn’t train with the main group today, instead completing light drills on the side of the field with coaching staff. He missed Monday’s session due to illness.

Bennett would not be drawn on the conversation he’d had with the forward, who walked away from rugby league at the end of last season, to pursue professional boxing.

And he would not say what convinced him Tevita was serious about playing NRL again.

“I’m not going to really talk about that conversation. I’m happy to have him here and he wants to be here,” Bennett said.

“He’ll be right to go next week. The season’s getting away from us. I can’t keep him here for a month and not play him. He’ll be right to go next week. He’s been playing for Souths (Logan).

“Jesse Bromwich is not playing tomorrow, Thomas Flegler … we don’t know when he’ll be back, we know that Tom Gilbert won’t be back (this season) … that’s three forwards, so we’re a bit light-on.”

Pangai Junior set for round 16 debut
Tom Flegler Dolphins V Dragons March 17 2024 Kayo Stadium

Flegler in limbo

Bennett said the situation with Flegler’s injury had not changed.

“He’s in a situation. We don’t know whether he’ll play again or when he’ll play. There’s so many unanswered questions out there right now. That’s where it is. If it’s improving, it’s very slow but it’s nowhere near being able to play, nowhere near to determine what his future looks like,” he said.

When asked how Flegler was dealing with it, Bennett said: “You’ve just got to deal with it. It’s what it is. It’s on your shoulder, it’s on your lap. There’s no good being a sook about it.

“I think he’s been good, he’s handled it well, he’s looking for the best advice from the best medical people he can and the staff who are involved with him as well. He’s getting the best of everything and he’s dealing with it.”

“The nerve hasn’t repaired itself and there’s not much they can do until it repairs itself.”

Bennett did not think surgery involving a ‘nerve transfer’ was likely.

“I don’t think that’s going to be happening.”

See photos from training below

By Dominika Lis

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