Forward-thinking Chee-Kam turns to Lawrence for advice
Chris Lawrence might be a man of few words but Michael Chee-Kam is lapping up every one of them from his experienced Wests Tigers teammate.
The man they call 'Rowdy' is having a substantial influence on Chee-Kam as the 26-year-old negotiates his way from being a centre/back-row utility to concentrating on being a permanent fixture in the forward pack.
Lawrence made the transition himself in 2015 under former Tigers coach Jason Taylor and hasn't looked back.
"I guess Rowdy made me feel like [back-row] is now my position," Chee-Kam told NRL.com ahead of the Tigers travelling to Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday to play Cronulla.
"Before I played a lot of centre/back-row. I can do both."
Chee-Kam has played 11 games at centre and 28 in the forwards for the Tigers since arriving from Manly in 2016.
Lawrence has gently but persistently been in his ear on the finer points of the back-row.
"Being with Rowdy and seeing all the things he's done, he's been helping me a lot," Chee-Kam said.
"I pick his brain because with centre, attack is out wide but in second-row you get more tight balls and line running. And defence is a big difference to centre.
"Some people say they're very different but Rowdy has looked so good in both positions. So I'm asking him a lot of questions."
Chee-Kam doesn't have a preference.
"Not really," he said.
"I take it as being pretty lucky to be able to do both."
He's also not distressed that 20 of his 39 games have been off the bench.
"One day I'd like that – to start. I think that's everyone's goal in the NRL," he said.
"Right now I'm just happy to be wherever [coach] Ivan [Cleary] wants me, whether it's for 80 minutes or way less."
He has started in his last three games but Chee-Kam is quite liking the responsibility of entering the fray leading into half-time or early in the second half.
"I just always try to lift the boys as they know I'm coming on fresh, wanting as many carries as I can," he said.
"They expect me to make a difference. That's one thing Ivan has been telling me that's my role now – to bring the energy."
While Lawrence has been in one ear, Cleary has been in the other.
"He really individualises things," Chee-Kam said.
"Before I didn't really understand what was wanted in my role, whether it was in the forwards or centre.
"But he's pointed out things to me – like the end of sets – of what I should be doing. He's really helped me understand my role more."
And now to the Sharks. A win in the Shire on Sunday would be the Tigers' 200th since entering the first grade competition in 2000 as a joint-venture club.
The Tigers appear to have come off the boil with only two wins in the last six games. The loss to the Sydney Roosters last weekend tipped them out of the top eight.
If it's any consolation four of the six losses were by two points or less.
"There's still a lot of belief," Chee-Kam said.
"We've had some close losses so we know we deserve to be up there."