St George Illawarra Under-20s utility Joe Lovodua has been promoted to the full-time development player squad and has had his contract extended a further 12 months, while front-rower Josh Kerr has also re-signed for a further season.
Lovodua will now spend at least the next two seasons with the NRL squad alongside fellow development players Tristan Sailor, Jackson Ford and Steven Marsters following the upgrade of his 2018 Under-20s contract.
The 19-year-old Hurstville United junior only recently returned to pre-season training after played four Tests for Fiji at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Lovodua – who is capable of playing hooker, lock and in the halves – was excited to put his Bati learnings and experience into practice at the Dragons.
“I was stoked to make that Fijian side to play at the World Cup. I’ve made some lifelong friends and I think the effort and hard work I put in throughout my time with the Bati has certainly helped me secure my spot here in the development squad,” Lovodua said.
“It’s been a tough and long journey coming through the ranks, and all the hard work has paid off now.
“To see how far the other development players have come after all the hard work they’ve put in this pre-season is exciting for me.”
Director of Rugby League Pathways Ian Millward said Lovodua’s promotion was a reflection of the possibilities that the Dragons’ pathways can provide committed local juniors.
“Joe has shown over the last couple of years that he’s improved his game. Physically and skill-wise he’s improved too. On top of that he had a fantastic World Cup for Fiji playing against men after coming from the Under-20s,” Millward said.
“We have upgraded Joe to a development contract which means he’ll now become a full-time player in our top squad. We still had spots available in our development squad and like we’ve said all along we didn’t rush these things and hand spots out.
“We wanted to reward him for the way he’s been going. He’s a versatile player and we see him developing as a utility player down the track which is why we wanted to get him in that full-time environment as quick as possible.”
Kerr, who was off-contract at the end of 2018, will now remain at the Dragons until at least the end of the 2019 Telstra Premiership season.
The 21-year-old former Under-20s Queensland representative was one of three players to play every game of Illawarra in 2017, and is looking to make his much-anticipated NRL debut in 2018.
“My rugby league dream was always limited to reserve grade because I thought the NRL was a far-fetched thing for me. Now that I’m here though, I’ve put in too much work and sacrificed a lot of things, and I think now is the year for me,” Kerr said.
“Just like any other trade, you have to do your apprenticeship and mine was spent playing in the Intrust Super Premiership in 2017.
“But now I’ve extended my contract, it’s an opportunity that I’m looking to take with both hands. I want to test myself and prove to everyone that I’m an NRL player.”
Millward stressed the importance of Kerr’s retention and tipped that first grade isn’t far away for him.
“A towering front-rower, we recruited him out of the Melbourne Storm a few seasons ago,” he said.
“Josh has really good leg speed, and when you’re trying to find balance in your forward pack, you have to have some height and power.
“We’d like to think he’s going to play some first grade games this year, and then in 2019 we expect him to be a player who really pushes some of our more experienced players.
“From a strategic, long-term point of view, it was really important for us to see him remain at the club.”
Kerr and Lovodua’s extensions follow the likes of Gareth Widdop, Euan Aitken, Jack de Belin, Paul Vaughan, Tim Lafai, Kurt Mann, Jason Nightingale, Matt Dufty, Blake Lawrie, Luciano Leilua and Cameron McInnes to have re-signed with the Dragons over the past 12 months.