James to revel in All Stars onslaught
They are two of the most feared front-rowers in the competition but Indigenous All Stars prop Ryan James is determined to use his battle with James Graham and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves as a launching pad for a big 2015 season.
The Titans' bookend is one of only three recognised front-rowers in the Indigenous All Stars squad of 20 that will be given the mammoth task of trying to contain the likes of Graham, Waerea-Hargreaves and Jesse Bromwich not to mention powerhouse back-rowers Jason Taumalolo, Dave Taylor and Paul Gallen.
James and Dragons recruit George Rose have been selected in Laurie Daley's team to start against the NRL All Stars on February 13 with Tom Learoyd-Lahrs as back-up on the bench and James has no doubt it will give him a strong platform from which to build leading into Round 1.
"In previous years it has helped me, just getting out there and playing with the calibre of players you're playing with," James said of kicking the season off with an All Stars appearance.
"You try and take that back to your team, their work ethic and training and what they do; you're seeing the best of the best.
"We're coming up against a world-class front row. I looked at the front row and James Graham is probably the best front-rower in the comp and Hargreaves and Jesse Bromwich are both up there as well.
"Me, Georgey and Tommy are just going to have to put our hands up and go forward I guess.
"To get that game under the belt as the first game of the year is an excellent game to start with."
After suffering a shoulder injury in the opening trial of 2014 against the Warriors last season James missed the opening two weeks of the season and played only four games in total all year.
A third separate shoulder injury forced him to undergo minor reconstructive surgery in June that ended his season and by the time the All Stars comes around it will be nine months since his last NRL appearance.
Heralded as a New South Wales Origin prospect when he signed a new three-year deal with the Titans last January, James knows that despite the loss of some key forwards, he faces a tough challenge establishing himself as a member of the 17 chosen for Round 1 given the off-season recruitment of coach Neil Henry.
"Losing 'Bails' (Luke Bailey) was a big loss and losing all that experience in the middle was a big loss but Neil's brought in a lot of great young front-rowers and I'm happy to work for my spot," said James, who will be making his third Indigenous All Stars appearance.
"Everyone's working hard in the middle. Big Dave Hala is a great player, young 'Iggy' (Agnatius Paasi) and 'Sirro' (Damian Sironen), 'Whitey' (Matthew White), Nate [Myles] and 'Dougie' (Luke Douglas) are great players and really experienced so it's going to be a matter of pushing for your spot in the trials and whoever plays best in the trial will probably get a start.
"We've got a lot of front-rowers, a lot of back-rowers, a lot of fullbacks, a lot of hookers, a lot of halves so the competition is there and it's been good for everyone.
"Everyone's been pushing themselves to the next level and it's more of a one-in all-in attitude. If someone doesn't make it in a fitness drill we'll all do it again whereas back in the day you just would have let them do it themselves."