Tigers spots on the line at Nines
Wests Tigers veteran Chris Lawrence says with a few spots up for grabs, a host of rookies could stake a claim for a Round 1 starting role next year with a strong effort at the pre-season Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines.
Lawrence captained a very inexperienced Tigers squad to Auckland last year – his first Nines campaign – and expects to be one of very few senior faces from the club in the third annual Nines tournament.
"We don't have too many old heads at the club in general at the moment! It's going to be a young squad definitely and it is a good opportunity for those young guys, give them a bit more experience and give some other young guys who haven't had a chance at first grade to put their hand up and possibly push for a starting spot come Round 1," Lawrence told NRL.com.
"At this stage I'll definitely be over there and I'm looking forward to it again. Now having a taste of it I know what to expect so looking forward to building on what we did last year.
"It was good to get a taste of it. It's a very exciting brand of football and very different format and something I really enjoyed."
Rugby sevens convert Jesse Parahi is one Tiger who would seemingly be suited to the reduced format.
"He's been training the house down so he's definitely someone who, I know what he's done in the pre-season so far has really impressed everyone so he'll definitely be putting his hand up come the Auckland Nines and trials for a spot in Round 1," Lawrence said of the 26-year-old.
Manly duo, 23-year-old back-rower Michael Chee Kam and 24-year-old five-eighth Jack Littlejohn, have notched just five NRL games apiece, all at Manly. Both have looked comfortable enough at the top level to suggest they could have played more and both will be out to make an impression in Auckland if given the chance.
"[Chee Kam] is another one who's been training the house down and I've been very impressed by the way he's been training and everyone else at the club has been very impressed by his attitude and what he's been doing," Lawrence said.
"He's another one who's going to use a format like the Auckland Nines to put his hand up and show that they want a spot in Round 1."
Star fullback James Tedesco is less likely to make his second Nines appearance, having spent most of the off-season in the rehab group. While his skills would seem perfectly suited to the reduced format his injury history prior to 2015 suggests he's an asset that should be managed very carefully.
"I'm not sure whether Teddy's going to be there or not, he's been in the rehab group for a lot of the pre-Christmas training so whether he's going to be right for the Nines I'm not quite sure," Lawrence said.
"We know what he can do in the 13-man game so he would be even more dangerous in the Nines format."
A fit Lawrence himself seems all but guaranteed to make his second Nines venture though.
"I've been in full training from day one, I haven't missed a session so I've been in there doing everything. Just trying to get through to Christmas and as soon as we get back from that short Christmas break the season's just around the corner and we can start getting excited," he said.
Of the ongoing uncertainty around Robbie Farah, Lawrence said while it had all dragged on longer than the playing group would have liked they addressed the issue early and have been getting on with the job and enjoying training.
"We had some open discussions early on to try and put it to bed, we put our footy first. It's probably dragged on a bit longer than it needed to be so hopefully that's all put to bed and whatever happens can be sorted out with Robbie's management and Tigers management behind closed doors," he said.
"Everyone's enjoying themselves, we're working really hard together and getting that enjoyment from working hard for one another. Like most clubs and players this time of year we're hanging out for that short Christmas break because it seems like the footy's a long way away but in actual fact it's just around the corner."