Versatility gets Harawira-Naera the nod over Martin

Bulldogs skipper Josh Jackson has praised the versatility, work ethic and competitiveness of recruit Corey Harawira-Naera, who is set to tip breakout 2018 star Rhyse Martin out of an NRL jersey in coach Dean Pay's round one team to face the Warriors.

Jackson said that with himself and fit-again Kiwi Test forward Raymond Faitala-Mariner eyeing off probable 80-minute roles as edge forwards, the team's round one bench would feature two props, one utility and the ex-Panther, who can cover back row, centre and prop.

"There's been good competition over the pre-season and it lifts the intensity of the sessions so it's been great," Jackson told NRL.com.

"The way it will look this weekend, we'll have Adam [Elliott] starting at lock, Ray and myself on the edges, Aiden [Tolman] and [Dylan] Napa starting up front then we'll have Jesse [Sue], Corey, Danny [Fualalo] and Jeremy Marshall-King on the bench.

"Corey's been great for us and he's a really handy player to have because he can play anywhere on the field. He can play on the edge, he can play in the centres, he can play in the middle of the field too so he's got really good versatility."

Bulldogs forward Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bulldogs forward Corey Harawira-Naera. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

The reduction in interchanges in recent years meant the way coaches used their benches has evolved, he added.

"With eight interchanges, you want to rotate your middles and leave your edges out there for as long as possible," he said.

"That's why [Harawira-Naera] is good, he's a very selfless player, he'll play in the middle even though he hasn't played there too much before. I'd imagine that will be his role unless there's some injuries.

"He's been fantastic, his training has been really good, he's a real skilful player. Watching him in the Canberra trial he's very physical as well so that's probably where Deano got the idea to throw him in the middle. He was hitting pretty hard. He's going to have a big year for us.

"I think that's probably a strength of ours is our forward pack and trying to play them through the middle."

Jackson also had plenty of praise for another recruit, former Wests Tigers prop Sauaso 'Jesse' Sue, who had earned himself a spot in his new club's leadership group in an impressive first pre-season at Belmore.

"We're really happy to get Jess on board," Jackson said.

"We knew the quality of the player. Playing against him I knew how tough he was and how hard he is to handle, the way he trains, he's flat stick at everything he does, never whinges about anything, just gets the job done.

"He's in our leadership group and going to be a great leader for us. I think he's going to have a big year."

Pressed on any further surprises to the round one team, Jackson hinted that the right edge combination he formed with Kerrod Holland and Reimis Smith last year may get a revamp.

"There might be a few changes but I'll keep those up my sleeve," he smiled.

"The last six weeks of [2018] we started getting those combinations together and found a good style of footy that works for us and we've built on that the whole pre-season. It's a lot less structured to how we started last year and really suits us a lot better I think. The focus is more on building combinations with your edge."

As to whether a fit-again Kieran Foran would slot straight in for the departed Matt Frawley on the right edge, Jackson said it would be dictated more by a style of play that would hand the reins to Lachlan Lewis and allow Foran to return to his running-focused style that brought so much success in his time at Manly.

"Lewy will play on the ball and direct the team a bit more and that will leave Foz to run the ball and have a bit more freedom," Jackson said.

"I think Foz's greatest strength is his running game and his ability to take on the line. When he was playing last year before he got injured he was on the ball trying to direct the whole team but I think that's Lachie's strength, he's really good at directing the team and he really enjoys doing it as well. That will be his role this year."