Raiders and Italy prop Paul Vaughan says he'd like to try his hand at the Auckland Nines. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
The un-Canberra-like heatwave and the upcoming Auckland Nines were the big topics of conversation as the Raiders returned to pre season training, with the big men split over whether props will be welcome at the February 15-16 tournament.
2013 debutant and one of the stars of the recent world cup with Italy (where he made almost 500 running metres in three games), Paul Vaughan, said he'd love to get a crack at the reduced format.
"I'd like to go over there, I think I'd really enjoy myself. I don't know how I'd go fitness-wise – it'll be pretty quick but if they give me a shot I'd like to do it and I'd like to test myself and see how I go so I'll be looking forward to it if they let me go," Vaughan told reporters after a recent training session.
Having earned his debut in Round 7 of 2013 due to a rib injury to David Shillington but then holding his spot, Vaughan also said he wanted to cement himself as a first choice first grader in 2014.
"I was lucky enough to get my debut last year but there was an injury that got me into the team... I'd like to stay in the 17, push myself there and not be there because of injury but because I deserve it. I'm aiming to play a full year, I've got some high goals I'd like to achieve so I'd like to get there," he said.
However Vaughan's enthusiasm for the shortened format was definitely not shared by teammate Mark Nicholls.
"A few of the boys have already spoken about it; I think they should adopt a 'no front rowers' policy for the Nines," Nicholls joked when quizzed on his possible attendance at the tournament.
"It's going to be hard enough to tackle some of those blokes with the spaces around you. Some of those [other Canberra forwards] like Jarrad Kennedy and Kyle O'Donnell that are pretty fit and good on their feet, so I guess they're the kind of blokes they'd be looking at," he said.
Both men nominated the current heatwave as a major challenge in their return to training, but Vaughan said it would pay off come the start of the season.
"It's been pretty tough, the first few sessions have been pretty tough with the heat but the first couple of games we've got in the heat are going to be tough games, we're starting up in Townsville [against the Cowboys at 8pm on Saturday March 8] so we need to get used to the heat and start acclimatising," he said.
"Yeah it's pretty hot," Nicholls confessed.
"We've trained afternoons leading into Christmas so we had a couple of hot days before then. We're getting used to it, that's the point of training in the afternoons to make it tough for us. The boys know it's coming so we've just got to deal with it," he added.
Off-season recruit Lagi Setu said he wasn't at all daunted by the prospect of a freezing Canberra winter if it meant getting away from the current heatwave.
"Some boys are conditioned to it - for myself, I'm still trying to get the hang of how hot it is but I'm looking forward to having an ice bath after," he said.
Setu said he had been enjoying his time at the club so far where the other players had been very welcoming following his move north from Melbourne at the end of the 2013 season.
"I am, I'm enjoying my time, I'm just finding it hard with the weather right now," he said. "I'm actually all right with the cold - I don't mind wearing hoodies."
Unlike some clubs that are dealing with something of a front row shortage or at the very least a changing of the guard with some senior props departing (the Sea Eagles, Roosters and Broncos for example have all seen a number of props move on), Canberra seem to have an embarrassment of riches in that department.
Established squad members Shillington, Brett White, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Dane Tilse will be looking to hold off challenges from young guns Vaughan, Nicholl, Kennedy and giant youngster Shannon Boyd.
"There's a lot of front rowers, there's probably eight or nine guys that have played first grade in the front row [at the club]," Nicholls said.
"We'll see what happens, [coach] Ricky [Stuart] and [assistant coach] Dean [Pay] have had me playing a little bit of edge, I've gone back to my under 20s days running on the left edge out there.
"I'm happy playing anywhere and [if] playing a few positions and showing my versatility helps me get picked in the side that's what I'm willing to do."