Saints seeking player 'capable of making us a real force', says boss Dowson

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Phil Dowson says Saints are on the hunt for a player who ‘is capable of making us a real force' following the departure of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto earlier this week.

Salakaia-Loto has cut short his stay at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens for family reasons, opting to head home to Australia, where he is set to play for Melbourne Rebels.

That has left Saints with a big hole in their squad as they were counting on the 26-year-old, who joined from Queensland Reds last summer, to play a big part in the 2023/24 campaign.

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And when asked whether the club is now in the market for a replacement, Dowson said: "Yeah. You look at the timing of it and it's not been a long term thing we've been aware of.

Phil DowsonPhil Dowson
Phil Dowson

"We've been digging around and looking at different options, and of course it's a difficult time of year to do that.

"But no doubt we'll get somebody into the squad that we think is capable of making us a real force."

Salakaia-Loto made 24 appearances in his one and only season at Saints, and he clearly enjoyed the experience.

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But Dowson knows that family must come first, elaborating on the forward's exit.

"We've got to be careful in terms of saying he wants to go back home," Dowson said. "He thinks it's the best thing for his family to go back home because it's difficult with a two-year-old and another one on the way to manage.

"He's enjoyed his rugby at Saints, certainly from what he said to myself and the coaches when we met him, and it's just a sad situation that he's a long way from home with no family support and it is tough.

"Sometimes these things do happen in life, not just in rugby but in all walks of life. People return home to find support and a better balance in their lives.

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"It always comes first, regardless, and we're obviously very sad to see a very talented player go.

"We've been talking about it for a while but it's not been common knowledge among the squad or anything because we were trying to find a way to get around it.

"Family comes first and we'll wish him all the best.

"Hopefully we'll see him again and he'll always be a Saintsman."

Saints brought in two tighthead props earlier this week, with Elliot Millar Mills and Beltus Nonleh recruited, while Oisin Heffernan and Alfie Petch headed for the exit door.

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So where does the squad stand for next season and is it just a Salakaia-Loto replacement that Saints are now seeking?

"I don't think you ever think 'we're all set' because there are always so many moving parts," Dowson said.

"There are players who have left and joined mid-season, Biggs (Dan Biggar) and Fin Smith for example.

"So you never quite know what's around the corner.

"The Lukhan situation changes everything again because you think ‘we're pretty set in the six and second row department’ and that changes everything.

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"You never think you're fully set, you're always looking for different opportunities.

"The fact we got Trevor Davison mid-season will be a real positive when he gets settled in. We've already seen what he's capable of to a degree.

"I'm pleased with what we've done so far, but I'm also aware that the game never stops and we've got to keep pushing."

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