Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown believes his side is in much better shape than they were this time last year.
The mid-season additions of Brendan Elliot and Peter Mata'utia coupled with new signings Jamie Buhrer, Rory Kostjasyn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling and Jacob Gagan have given the Knights much more depth heading into the 2017 season.
"There is a lot more competition [for places] than there was last year," Brown said.
"Hopefully people like Chanel Mata'utia will have more luck with injuries. Chanel hurt his knee in the first two minutes against the Gold Coast in Round 1 and never got back, we are quite hopeful that Chanel will have a big year.
"We are definitely a lot stronger at this stage this year than we were last year, not only with quality, but experience as well."
That depth is already showing with the battle for the custodian role, with three players capable of filling the position.
"Dylan Pythian and Peter Mata'utia are probably the two most likely ones at this stage," Brown said,
"Nathan Ross is happy to play there or at wing or centre as well. He's 27 and he's only played 30 games, he really established himself as a winger, so we'd probably like to keep Ross there and keep a bit of stability."
The Knights returned to training on Wednesday, knowing the Downer NRL Auckland Nines are just around the corner.
"In the Nines we'd like to give a few younger blokes an opportunity and some experienced players as well," Brown said.
"Fitness will play a part in that. We have some outside backs that have spent some time in rehab that have missed a bit of training so we certainly don't want to risk anyone.
"I think some of the players and especially the higher profile ones, they enjoy playing Nines. When we play the Nines we have a trial on the same weekend against a state league side on the Gold Coast. A couple of weeks after that we play Canberra."
Brown is still yet to decide on his best starting side, but said the trials and training will help make up his decision in the coming months.