A new-look St George Illawarra returned to training this week with a host of new recruits slotting in comfortably – including former Souths hooker Cam McInnes, who again teams up with former Junior Kangaroos teammate Drew Hutchison.
A fit-looking McInnes impressed his new teammates in a gruelling first-up fitness session in Wollongong on Tuesday morning and the 2014 Junior Kangaroos captain said he was revelling in his new environment – and the chance to reunite with his teammate from that game in Dragons halfback Hutchison.
McInnes told NRL.com that while he was targeting the Dragons No.9 jersey for Round 1 he knew he could afford to take nothing for granted – much like halfback hopeful Hutchison who is aiming to partner English Test pivot Gareth Widdop in the halves next year.
"That's the aim for me (to start in Round 1)," McInnes said.
"I'm sure Drew has the same goal in mind for himself. We'll work together closely and help to improve each others' games and make ourselves better so we can be in that team."
McInnes praised the composure his 2014 teammate had shown even as a teenager.
"He's really composed and got a great kicking game and controls the game really well so that's what you want from a half," he said.
"He's a good fella as well so it's good to be back working with him again."
Hutchison was also relishing the chance to continue to build on that combination over the off-season.
"I played Australian under-20s with him, that was two years ago now; I've known him previously so it's going to be good working with him again," Hutchison said of McInnes.
"I enjoyed working with him in Junior Kangaroos so it will be good to keep that combination going.
"He's a good player and he's had a lot of first grade experience so it's going to be good to see the ideas that he brings to the team and try and strike up a good combinations."
And his first impression of the former Rabbitohs under-20s captain?
"He's very strong!" Hutchison laughed.
"He's wrestled me a few times and he's put me on my back. He's just a good leader on the field, he can play 80 minutes and kick the ball to the corners and really lead a team around so it's going to be helpful having him in the team."
McInnes had an up-and-down season in 2016 as the Rabbitohs missed out on the finals. Expected to take over the role vacated by Kiwis rake Issac Luke after his departure to the Warriors, McInnes instead ended up being shuffled in and out of the starting line-up along with fellow hooker Damien Cook as neither quite managed to put their stamp on it.
McInnes said he had no complaints about coach Michael Maguire ringing the changes as the side struggled to regain its mojo and insisted the experience made him a better player.
"The seasons didn't go the way we wanted it to. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," he said.
"Something had to change and sometimes that involves yourself getting changed. Whilst I didn't necessarily agree with it and I don't think many players would that's just how it is.
"I got some good opportunities there, played some good footy and played some not so good footy sometimes so I learned a lot from that experience and I'm ready to come here and be more consistent.
"I've learned along the way and probably last year I learned as well that nothing's a given in the NRL no matter who you are or what people might say. I want to make sure I earn that spot."
Expanding on his decision to move across to the Dragons following his former club's signing of NSW and former Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah, McInnes said that was just the way it worked out sometimes.
"Obviously at Souths with Robbie coming and the opportunity arose here for me to come and Souths were good enough to let me go so I'm very thankful to them for everything they did for me and very humbled and excited to get the opportunity here," he said.
"When I got the call I was pretty stoked and I jumped into it. I'll always be in debt to Souths for bringing me through and I'll always love to the club but it's not tough leaving, it's exciting, it's a good opportunity and a new challenge. I'll miss a lot of the players I played with but I'm looking forward to this."