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Young Dragons to watch in 2019

Whether promoted from the club's junior representative sides or recruited to the Red V, each of these young Dragons have a point to prove in 2019.

Eddie Blacker

Brisbane is all Eddie Blacker knows.

Born and bred, Blacker played all his juniors at the Pine Rivers Bears before making the step up to the lower grades at the Broncos.

The Queensland Under-20s representative spent five years at the Broncos – including the final year of the now-defunct Holden Cup – before taking the plunge and joining the Dragons for the upcoming season.

A serious hamstring injury hampered Blacker's final season at Brisbane and it unfortunately had its consequences upon arriving to his first NRL pre-season. 

"Pre-Christmas was very tough. A lot of lonely hours running by myself in the hot room we do rehab in and watching the boys otherwise do their thing," Blacker said.

"It's very good to be out there now post-Christmas. I'm very happy being among the team."

A new year has brought new perspectives to Blacker's outlook on pre-season training.

Blacker's resumption of full training coincided with veteran England captain James Graham's return to the Dragons from international duty, and he hasn't shied away from picking his brain for advice.

"It's amazing to be around the group of players we have here. They have all been very accepting of me," Blacker said.

"I've been in all of the forwards pockets. They're probably starting to get a little annoyed with me with the amount of questions I'm asking. I'm very happy with how they have treated me here."

One to watch: Eddie Blacker

Jackson Ford

Things have never come easy for Jackson Ford throughout his burgeoning rugby league career.

Twice cut from Illawarra Steelers' junior representative teams as a young Gerringong Lion, Ford finally received his chance in 2016.

"After all those pre-seasons, I finally was picked for the last year of my age group in SG Ball," Ford said.

"To progress from there into the Under-20s and win the Dragons NYC Player of the Year in 2017 was really rewarding. It was the cherry on top following what was a good year."

A shoulder injury suffered in the ISP Dragons' preliminary final loss last year, after then-Bulldog Greg Eastwood "got me a beauty", Ford has been dealt an interrupted pre-season.

However, Ford has adapted quickly to the expectations of pre-season in what is his second year in the NRL development player squad.

"I've been loving it the second time around. It's been a little bit easier this year with knowing what to expect as far as the fitness standards go and how to deal with the pre-season mentally," Ford said.

"It's clear that I'm bigger and stronger so I've been able to handle it a bit more. A shoulder injury has meant that I've been in rehab for the most part so far but I'm almost there with my strength."

With a spot in the NRL Top 30 beckoning in 2020, Ford hopes to further push his case for a maiden first grade berth throughout the upcoming season.

One to watch: Jackson Ford

Hayden Lomax

Hayden Lomax has had brother Zac by his side throughout his rugby league journey. His first pre-season in the NRL development player squad is no different.

Even from their days playing for the Temora Dragons, the two have been side by side in their quest to make a fist of rugby league.

"I started when I was five years old as a junior. We didn't have too many boys through our age group so we always had a lot of the younger boys playing up," Lomax said.

"That meant I was able to go through this whole journey with my brother (Zac). It's always good to have a familiar face around with me. Zac has always been there for me and it's good to have him alongside me."

The older of the two, Hayden has plied his trade in the Dragons' successful Jersey Flegg outfit for the past two seasons before making the jump up with the likes of teammates Jackson Ford, Tristan Sailor and Joe Lovodua.

"It's been a huge learning curve for me since I've been promoted to the development squad," Lomax said.

"There's plenty of talent around and I'm looking forward to ripping in for the rest of the pre-season and 2019 onwards. The boys have made me feel very welcome in the wider squad; there is so much talent running around in this squad."

A renowned utility, Lomax has this pre-season been shifted to a position not even he is familiar with.

Adept at playing at lock and hooker, Lomax has had to take a leaf out of the second-rowers book recently.

"I would love to play a little bit more in the middle but I've been thrown in at second row this pre-season," he said.

"I've never really played there before until this pre-season but I'm focused on learning off and always watching what Tariq (Sims) and the other back-rowers are doing.

"I wouldn't mind jumping into the middle a little bit more though."

One to watch: Hayden Lomax

Jason Saab

The quick trajectory of Jason Saab is a sight to behold – and we're not just talking about his height.

Standing at 195 centimetres tall, the fleet-footed winger has enjoyed the first few weeks of his maiden NRL pre-season after representing the Australian Schoolboys over in the United Kingdom late last year.

From the St George Dragons' SG Ball team to the NRL development player squad in less than a year, with a New South Wales Origin Under-18s jersey in between, the 18-year-old is making the most of his early opportunities.

"It's been a big transition from the SG Ball. It's a very intense environment and I'm still trying to process it all as well as learn a lot off the older boys and the coaching staff," Saab said.

"It's pretty amazing. I can't help but call the boys by their first and last names like Benny Hunt and Gareth Widdop. I'm training with my idols and people I look up to that I've watched play since I was young. It's pretty unreal.

"Now it's just a matter of understanding why I belong here, fitting in and having a good crack."

The Merrylands Rams junior recently signed a four-year deal that will see him progress to the NRL Top 30 in 2021 and beyond.

The retirement of Jason Nightingale and departure of Nene Macdonald means wing spots will be hotly contested throughout the remainder of the pre-season at the Red V.

The likes of recognised wingers Mikaele Ravalawa, Jonus Pearson, Jordan Pereira and Lachlan Maranta have all put their hand up throughout the pre-season, and Saab couldn't be happier to be in their company.

"It's good to be surrounded by boys in my position who have the same goal in mind. It keeps you on the right track and keeps you very competitive," he said. "Not only will we grow as mates in the team but we will keep getting better together too."

One to watch: Jason Saab

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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