MANY considered his first taste of NRL action on Thursday night well overdue, but Dragons utility Tristan Sailor denied he ever sought a release from his deal with club.
Sailor turned heads with his performances in three NRL appearances at the end of 2019 and was tipped to come on this season. However, he found himself behind Zac Lomax and Matt Dufty in the fullback pecking order, and big-money men Ben Hunt and Corey Norman in the halves.
With the COVID-19 pandemic seeing the Canterbury Cup season abandoned, it left a host of players outside the top-grade 17 without football altogether. It prompted young winger Jason Saab to seek a release from his deal, a request the club denied.
Sailor was also labeled a 'disgruntled Dragon' in accompanying media reports, but he said he never sought a release, just the opportunity to explore on-loan agreements in the absence of a second-tier comp.
Dad, duel International Wendell Sailor, revealed on Triple M radio prior to Thursday's clash that a potential loan deal with the Tigers had been floated.
It didn't come to fruition, but Sailor said he was never looking to be released from his Dragons contract, which runs to the end of this season.
"We never asked for a release," Sailor said.
"I think there might have been some interest there with my manager [David Riolo] but I was never really involved with it. I leave that stuff to my management.
"Without [Canterbury] Cup, opportunities to play are very rare so you need to look at them, especially with those loan deals. You look at someone like Harry Grant, he would've been in the same position as me and he got that loan to the Tigers and is playing unreal footy.
"When you're not playing [regular] NRL those opportunities may come up, but the release was never asked for."
Whether it keeps him in Wollongong next season remains to be seen. One of a rare breed of players with a myriad of interests outside football, the 22-year-old recently completed a communications degree at UOW.
A lack of football in a COVID-affected season has presented different obstacles, but he'll consider all options at what's a key point in his career.
"It's hard because we're not playing any footy but that's just part of the challenges that come with this season," he said.
"Everyone's in the same position so it'll just be clubs going on your past form and taking opportunities like [Thursday night] and trying to showcase what you can do. You've just got to trust in the process and focus on bettering yourself every day and hope your opportunities come around that.
"I'm open to going anywhere [next season]. I've obviously got that base in Wollongong, I've just finished my uni degree so that's all done. I'm happy to go wherever just as long as I get the opportunity to play NRL and further my career."
The cheer that greeted his injection with 14 minutes to go on Thursday night was indicative of fans' desire to see the 22-year-old get an opportunity. Some had pushed for him to get that crack on the wing, but Sailor always anticipated that his opportunities would come in the spine.
"The way the game is wingers are like extra front-rowers," Sailor said.
"When you've got JP [Jordan Pereira] and Mika [Ravalawa] there, they're getting our sets started so well and then you've got Saaby coming up. He's 6'5, athletic, and he's got a strong carry to.
"I'm happy to play that position but we've got three high quality wingers there so I think my opportunities are going to come more in the one or six, or even that utility position."