The Roosters face stiff competition in their bid to re-sign bench forward Sitili Tupouniua as Trent Robinson praises the fringe first-graders that have covered the absence of eight Test stars in 2019.
NRL.com understands the Tricolours are keen to extend Tupouniua's deal amid serious interest from rival NRL outfits, with the edge back-rower off contract at season's end.
The Roosters have ramped up contract talks with the 21-year-old this week after his barnstorming finish in last Friday's golden point win over Melbourne, when his late charge through the Storm's middle set up Latrell Mitchell's match-winning field goal.
In paying tribute to Tupouniua's development, Robinson conceded he "should've played 15-20 NRL games by now", but for the premiers' strong forward depth to limit the Kiwi forward to just two Telstra Premiership appearances.
"They had a kick-off, we didn't actually win that play," Robinson said of Tupouniua's late efforts against the Storm.
"Off the kick-off, I think we ended up on the 10-metre [line].
"Then for Sitili to make the run that he did, he also knocked the ball loose underneath the posts when they would've been setting up to kick a field goal.
"That's the thing he should've played 15-20 NRL games by now. He's had to work hard to get into that position and he delivered. That was really pleasing for a second-gamer."
Tupouniua has been named on Robinson's bench again for Thursday's Anzac Day blockbuster against the Dragons, when the Roosters will be gunning for a sixth win from seven starts in the title defence.
Skipper Jake Friend (shoulder injury) and New Zealand Test centre Joey Manu (suspension) return for the clash, while Tongan prop Siosiua Taukeiaho is also slated to start after a back/hamstring issue ruled him out during last week's warm-up.
Throughout 2019 the Roosters have been without rep players Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Issac Liu, Ryan Hall and former internationals Cooper Cronk and Brett Morris at various points, but haven't missed a beat thanks to their impressive squad depth.
Finding a regular spot for the likes of Tupouniua and fellow rising star Lachlan Lam proves difficult as a result of such strong competition on Robinson's team sheet.
In turn, similar fringe players Sean O'Sullivan, Kurt Baptiste and Paul Momirovski departed alongside established names Blake Ferguson, Dylan Napa and Ryan Matterson from last year's title-winning squad.
Robinson backed the club's ability to maintain the delicate balance around his top 30 squad, two titles and four minor premierships in his tenure at Bondi a fair vote of confidence in their methods.
Match: Roosters v Dragons
Round 7 -
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
"We don't get nervous about that stuff," Robinson said.
"Obviously these guys have come through our development system.
"We've worked hard on recruiting them and we've worked hard to develop them and we want them to continue that way.
"You don't want to see guys not play through injury.
"But I love the number of players that we're building. And I believe that those sort of 24, 25 players that we're using there should be playing every single week in the team.
"I want that competition. I want that freshness, I want that hunger to be in that 17.
"… I've got feedback from [feeder side] North Sydney, the way the guys are coming back without ego and they want to perform because they want to get back into that 17."