Titans stars welcome halves headache
Gold Coast Titans stars Nathan Peats and Ryan James are glad they aren't in the shoes of coach Neil Henry, who somehow has to find a way to fit three NRL-calibre halves into his 17 this year.
The rapid emergence of 2016 Rookie of the Year Ash Taylor on the back of the recruitment of up-and-coming star Kane Elgey – plus the strong 2016 form of former Knights Tyrone Roberts – leaves Henry in the rare position of having three genuine starting halves to choose from.
Roberts has arguably the most utility value if used off the bench in an impact role rotating through dummy half, but this would also leave the least experienced remaining players as the starting halves.
"They're three great genuine NRL halfbacks," James told NRL.com.
"I'm lucky I don't have to pick the team because I wouldn't be able to do it. It's great to have that competition in that halves because we've got that depth and I think we've got that in most positions at the moment.
"We've got great depth in the centres and the back row and the forwards are starting to shape up well so it's great everyone is fighting for positions for Round 1," he added.
Peats will link up closely with whoever the starting halves are and he said while Taylor's pre-season had been limited by groin surgery, things were shaping up well for Round 1.
"It's mainly been Tyrone and Elgey doing all the halves stuff but now that Ash has come in they've been rotating," Peats told NRL.com.
"It will come down to trial form and I'm sure the coach has an idea what he wants to do but most teams I've played with you normally have your two gun halves and your third or fourth one are your back-ups.
"I've never been part of a club where they've actually got three starting halves so it's going to be quite a tough decision. I don't think you can leave any of them out so whether one plays a utility role I'm not too sure yet."
Peats himself will benefit strongly from a full pre-season at the club after joining from Parramatta mid-season in 2016 due to salary cap problems at his former club.
"I didn't like the situation at all when it happened last year but I'm probably glad that it did now because I got to play half a season with the boys and coming into pre-season I wasn't a new bloke so it made me fit in a lot easier and made it a lot more comfortable during the whole pre-season so I'm looking forward to the season ahead," he said.
The new-look spine – which also includes fellow 2016 mid-season recruit Jarryd Hayne at fullback – looks formidable on paper but Peats urged patience as they haven't had a lot of time to gel yet.
"We've got a young spine and a new spine and trying to make it all work… we've got three quality halves that have to go into two so I'm not too sure what the coach is going to go with," he said.
Dual Dally M medallist Hayne largely struggled to recapture his best form in limited games at the end of 2016 but Peats backed his old Parramatta teammate to come good in 2017.
"He hasn't done a full pre-season in a while so he was struggling early days!" Peats joked of Hayne's early pre-season.
"To his credit he stuck through it and after Christmas he's been really good and speaking really well during the skill side of it. He's improved a lot and hopefully with a full pre-season under his belt he'll hit Round 1 flying and get better and better as the year goes on."
James said he had already been taken aback by what Hayne had been able to demonstrate at training.
"Just the amount of numbers Haynesy pulls into the back when he sweeps around – he just happens to create that extra number somehow, he draws the defender and happens to hit the right person," James said.
"He's got freakish skills and he's silky in everything he does so it's going to be great with a full pre-season under the belt and go into this last trial and see how we go."