South Sydney coach Michael Maguire insists he is still open to starting either Robbie Farah or Damien Cook at hooker in Round 1, with the player who misses out not even guaranteed a bench spot.
Long-serving Wests Tigers skipper Farah last year ended a long-running feud with coach Jason Taylor – along with endless speculation over his playing future – by linking with the Rabbitohs for 2017 and 2018.
The move looked likely to push Cook out of the club, but the former Dragon and Bulldog instead re-signed at Redfern, leaving him jostling with the NSW Origin rake in Maguire's best 17.
"Robbie and 'Cookie' will both have a run there [through the pre-season]," Maguire said at the launch of the 2017 Charity Shield fixture at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday.
He added those chances would be contingent on the fitness of both players but insisted Farah was at full fitness and training strongly of late despite a biceps injury early in the pre-season.
"He's going well, he's extremely fit and an outstanding trainer and so is Cookie," he said.
"I've got some good options moving forward so it will come down to the games and how they play and how we best see that. I'm very open with the boys and they're aware it's an opportunity for us to see how it's going to mould together.
"There's good competition amongst all the boys. They're all helping each other and looking after each other," Maguire added.
The 2014 premiership-winning coach backed Farah's experience and professionalism to be an asset to the club.
"He's a pro; he's a professional. I guess a lot has been talked about Robbie but I just want to let him do that, by his actions, on how he's going to go," Maguire said.
"Fortunately I've got two very good nines and they've been complementing each other and they'll bring the best out of each other.
"The experience of Robbie in key moments, and through training, he's been able to share that. I'm really looking forward to working with him."
But when asked who would likely start at hooker in Round 1, Maguire insisted he currently had "no idea".
Farah won't make the trip to the Downer Auckland Nines this weekend but Maguire expected both first string hookers to play in the Charity Shield against the Dragons on February 19 which would have significant impact over the make-up of the Round 1 line-up.
"How they perform is how I'll judge that. But I've seen a lot at training. So how we mix those two together is going to make an enjoyable start to the season into which way we want to go," he said.
"Damien Cook gets to show himself at the Nines and he's also been selected in the All Stars so that's going to give him some great experience."
Maguire also wouldn't confirm whether he'd look to use one as a bench utility or go with four forwards once the starting hooker spot was sealed.
"It is really 'time will tell'. Until you get in there and play the games and see where they're at physically and being able to do the plays you're after consistently will determine which way we'll go," he added.
"It will depend on how the boys present themselves when we play. You can play with one but both of them can play a number of positions too. Damien can play fullback, even in the centres and on the wing. Robbie can play in the halves at times.
"So we've got a few options there when you look at how that rotation might come. Do you carry a bigger bench? That fourth guy that might be the bigger size."
Club captain Greg Inglis, a long-time rival of Farah at club and State of Origin level, praised the professional approach he had brought with him.
"Since he's come here and I've been back [from an extended Four Nations break] it's been nothing but learning, and bouncing off each other and trying to improve," Inglis said.
"Leadership is his best attribute. His experience – he's been around the game for a long time.
"He's been helping others which is great. He speaks up in meetings; he voices his opinion. That's only going to help the team."