Josh McCrone believes he is in position to become Gareth Widdop's permanent partner in the St George Illawarra halves in the wake of the long-term injury to youngster Drew Hutchison in pre-season training.
Hutchison is facing at least six months of rehabilitation on the ACL injury he suffered prior to the Christmas break which while devastating for the 21-year-old opens the door for the likes of McCrone, Shaun Nona and Kurt Mann to stake a claim as Widdop's halves partner.
With 140 games of NRL experience under his belt across eight seasons, McCrone believes he is well positioned to wear the No.7 in Round 1 against the Panthers at UOW Jubilee Oval in Kogarah.
The Dragons won four of the seven games in which McCrone played halfback in 2016 and after winning the Intrust Super Premiership NSW and NRL State Championship with the Illawarra Cutters is confident in how he is placed on the eve of 2017.
"I thought I had been training very well and posed as good competition for Drew before he went down," McCrone told Dragons TV.
"There is a lot of extra motivation for me now to stand up.
"I am the most experienced bloke left to do the job so there is a sense of responsibility."
McCrone and Hutchison played the majority of the season alongside each other for the Cutters and the 29-year-old said it was extremely unfortunate to see the former Junior Kangaroos rep suffer such a serious injury given how well he had been training.
"I haven't known Drew for too long but this has been the best shape that he has been in," McCrone said.
"He kicked a field goal to lead us to two grand final wins as halfback. That's an enormous effort for a 21-year-old and he was looking good for Round 1.
"Unfortunately, one door closes for him but another one opens for me and for anyone else who can put their hand up to play in the halves.
"We need to take the positives out of this negative and Drew is a young guy who will come back fitter and stronger out of that."