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Discussions on internet forums erupted over the weekend following news that Dragons club stalwart Lance Thompson was apparently being shown the door. With little to go on other than a few ambiguous media reports, supporters vented the anger with many Dragons supporters demanding that one of their favourite sons be retained by the club.
Meanwhile, team mate Shaun Timmins was considering his options after receiving similar news and utility hooker Michael Ennis was shooting through to Queensland.
Officially, the St George Illawarra Dragons granted Michael Ennis a release following a meeting last Wednesday - the Dragons? top point scorer for 2005 agreed to terms with the Brisbane Broncos soon after. Citing salary cap concerns, the Dragons have also targeted forwards Lance Thompson and Shaun Timmins stating that their contracts are under review.
The red and whites are battling to stay under the salary cap for 2006 because several of their young stars have improved significantly, increasing their marketplace profile. The Dragons have the largest Australian representation in the upcoming Tri-Nations series with five players gaining the eye of the national selectors. In particular, bolter Ben Creagh?s selection has prompted further reports that Saints will have to cut at least one high profile player if they are to stay under the salary cap next year.
The Dragons had similar problems last year with a nine first graders being released, including goal-kicking hooker Mark Riddell to the Eels, Australian winger Nathan Blacklock to the UK and NSW Origin representative Brent Kite to Manly.
Timmins, 29, is reportedly keen to stay at the Dragons. His current contract with the club ends next year. However, he has been linked to UK club Hull FC and this was being viewed as a possible option for both Timmins and the Dragons.
Thompson, 27, who also has a year to run on his contract, wants to stay with the Dragons as well. But he was less than accommodating after being told of the news on Friday night. Thompson made a sudden departure from a Dragons end-of-year function at Sydney?s Town Hall thus prompting speculation, confusion and outrage amongst the supporters.
Lance Thompson debuted for St George in 1995, he was just 17 years of age. He represented City Firsts as captain in 2001 and played for City Origin in 2003 and 2004. For the Dragons, he has played 201 first grade games and played all 26 games for Saints in 2005, often bouncing back from injuries that would sideline most other first graders. Last year the young veteran took a substantial pay cut so the Dragons could retain other players under the salary cap. A St George junior from Hurstville United, Thompson was once quoted as saying, ?I would die for St George.?
One of the toughest forwards in the game, Thompson has always maintained that he bleeds for the Red V and will only play for the Dragons. In the past, he has donated six figure amounts to the St George Junior League.
Needless to say, Thompson has countless fans, not only in the St George Illawarra ranks but also across the divide to other club supporters who recognise a loyal club man when they see one.
Throughout the speculation, members on the Leagueunlimited.com and Jubilee Avenue internet forums were busily debating the issues surrounding the events of the weekend. Many were perplexed by the salary cap which is seemingly penalising the Dragons for producing too many quality juniors. Subsequently, online fans were reaching out for any word, any gossip. Everything from a friend who knows a team trainer to conversations overheard from TV rumour king Danny Wielder. Dragons? supporters in particular were keen for some sort of detail on Thompson?s future.
?To be fair though, I think it highlights just how good the Dragons junior development and recruiting is. This seems to go on with them once every 2-3 years.? ? Moffo.
?Saints punished again for developing their own players...forced to squeeze out one of their rare purchases & two locals. The cap doesn't work.? ? Southernsaint.
?Its all about the 'level playing field' remember? One club gets the players, and another club puts them on the field.? - Willow.
?Salary cap is a good thing. A little harsh on a team like Saints though, they deserve SOME junior dispensation.? - Balmain_Boy.
?If they don?t give Thommo the proper send off he deserves then I wont be a Dragon.? - Big Lance.
?Let's say for the time being that Lance has honour, but appears to lack "discipline?? No player is bigger that the club.? - Phantom Biter.
Meanwhile, Dragons? chief executive Peter Doust was himself busy over the weekend, responding to media queries and insisting that Thompson has overreacted.
"The coach suggested he sit down with Shaun Timmins and Lance Thompson and talk about their future in the context of his planning for the next two seasons," Doust said.
"One of the players took it rationally and one did not.
"Lance, in his own mind, had reached the conclusion the meeting had something to do with the club sacking him but that wasn't the case at all.
"It doesn't always come down to releasing players," Doust added.
"You need to know what players are thinking going forward. One person has taken it objectively and somewhat rationally, and the other has taking it quite emotionally."
Last August Doust was quoted as saying it is "very realistic" that the Dragons could re-sign their 11 off-contract players.
"It's very realistic - we never let players go we want to keep,? Doust said.
"That's next year. Do I have to worry about that right now?
"I am worrying about this year, and I am worrying about what we have contracted for 2006 - I'm not worried about 2007." (Source: AAP, 9 August 2005)
"I am gutted," said Thompson. "It's hard to take, especially with the way I've been told.
"I was told on Friday through a mutual friend of mine and Peter Doust that I wouldn't be playing with the club next year.
"I understand that they have salary cap problems but this is really hard to swallow,
"If I was playing bad, I'd understand it. But I think I played well this season,
"You spend 11 years at the club and give your heart and soul and they do this to you.?
Thompson maintained that he still has a contract and has no interest in going anywhere.
"As far as I'm concerned I'll be in the red and white next year," Thompson said. "I never said I don't want to be a Dragon - that's all I know."
The St George Illawarra club is hopeful of reaching a resolution with both Timmins and Thompson on Monday.