Dragons young gun Tyrell Sloan has leapt to the defence of NRL rival Josh Addo-Carr and the controversy surrounding the Koori Knockout after the Bulldogs player was involved in a brawl during the tournament. Addo-Carr's suspension for his involvement in the brawl saw him miss out on playing for the Kangaroos during their Pacific Championships series at the conclusion of the NRL season.
Sloan was also injured while competing at this year's Indigenous tournament and hobbled off the field with a damaged left ankle, prompting debate that clubs should be able to ban their stars from competing in the event. Addo-Carr claimed he was "knocked out" during the grand-final weekend tournament in an incident he suggested contributed to the ugly post-match altercation.
The event is not sanctioned by the NRL, but contracted players are insured when given permission by their clubs to play. Nevertheless, opposition to the competition has been growing at some clubs, amid fears players could be seriously injured while not in action for the team that pays their wages.
Sloan has hit back at the criticism around Addo-Carr and the Koori Knockout and insists the positives of the tournament far outweigh the negatives. "People don't see the things at the Knockout that we see," the St George Illawarra fullback said. "There are a lot of teams that travel from the country that are 10 or 12 hours away.
"A lot of kids that don't get to see NRL players, and even older men that don't get to experience the NRL or get exposed to that talent. Just coming up against Latrell Mitchell or Addo-Carr. Saying 'I got to tackle them', or 'I got bumped off by the boys'.
"We don't do it for the footy, we do it for our community. And that's what I want everyone to know. It's about my mob getting together. It's the biggest corroboree."
Sloan says he understands why clubs would be reluctant to release their Indigenous stars for the Koori Knockout after his injury from the competition - coupled with a pre-existing thumb complaint - means new Dragons coach Shane Flanagan's plans to toughen the livewire up through boxing have been affected. Such setbacks have sparked concerns around player availability for next year's event in Bathurst.
"That's probably the decision it's going to come to now in the next year," Sloan said. "Foxx (Addo-Carr)'s incident was a big one and mine wasn't too publicised, but I tell you what, my coach wasn't too happy.
"He was just a bit pissed because he had a big pre-season set up. It's a risk-reward you take. I came out the wrong end of it and so did Foxxy. But at the end of the day, my focus is putting a smile on those kids' faces ... It's not always about the footy. It's about the next generation coming through."
Tyrell Sloan wants to make Dragons No.1 jersey his own
Sloan's admission comes as the 21-year-old has vowed to improve his defence in a battle to make the No.1 jersey his own in 2024. Sloan faces competition from regular centre Zac Lomax, who has been training at fullback and offers Flanagan another enticing option ahead of his first season in charge of the club.
"I want to be a fullback and that's all I know," Sloan said. "It's been like this my whole career. There has always been competition... It's something I don't really stress about. I back my ability. We haven't been performing where we need to be for the last three years that I've been in grade. I really want to step up and make that position mine."
Sloan's injury situation means he's been able to spend extra time to beef up at the gym after being sidelined from training duties on the field. While adding some extra size and weight will surely be beneficial for Sloan, the 21-year-old pointed to former NRL star Preston Campbell as someone who was hugely successful, despite being one of the game's smallest players.
"Size doesn't matter," a defiant Sloan said. "You look at Preston Campbell, he was one of the best fullbacks as well. He did his job. There are a lot of players that are smaller than me that have played grade."
Sloan admits his much maligned defence is the area he needs to focus the majority of attention on. The fullback has been doing extensive video work with returned assistant coach Dean Young and studying his rivals' games in order to better himself.
"It's something I do lack, I'll be honest," Sloan said. "There's moments there when I'm good and there are moments there when I'm bad. I want to be the person that if there's a line break or anything, I can be depended on to make that tackle."
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