Trent Robinson says his relationship with star Roosters defector Latrell Mitchell hasn't suffered as he flagged next month's World Club Challenge for Billy Smith's expected unveiling as Mitchell's replacement.
Robinson spoke for the first time on Mitchell's signing with arch-rivals South Sydney earlier this week, conceding he would have liked the 22-year-old's protracted exit from Bondi to be "much cleaner" than the two-month contract circus that dominated headlines.
While Mitchell is eyeing off a shift into the red and green No.1 across Anzac Parade, the Tricolours will look from within to replace the Test and Origin powerhouse at left centre.
Smith, 20, has been touted as a front-runner for the vacant backline berth, and impressed plenty at the club in his return from an ACL rupture to make his NRL debut in 2019.
The Roosters also have veteran Brett Morris as a potential centre option along with Matt Ikuvalu and injured Englishman Ryan Hall (dislocated knee) jockeying for a start out wide.
Former Shark Kyle Flanagan leads fellow young playmaker Lachlan Lam in the bid to replace Cooper Cronk at the scrumbase, with Robinson declaring he will field a first-choice 17 for the Roosters World Club Challenge defence against St Helens on February 22.
"We've obviously got the left centre position open, we've got the half position open," Robinson said as the club unveiled former Sydney Swan Nick Davis as a marquee ring-in for the NRL Nines a week before their World Club Challenge campaign.
"They're the two main vacancies that we've got, so guys are going to push into that and obviously those two [Smith and Flanagan] are right in the thick of it.
"It'll be the best team possible on that day. And then obviously that will bode well for the season. You've got to perform on a big stage.
"For anyone that's been to a World [Club] Challenge or played in one, it's a big stage. It's a really good test for the season ahead so you'll see our best 17."
At 191cm and 99 kilos, Smith offers a similarly big body to Mitchell out wide, while he found himself embroiled in yet another Roosters-Rabbitohs stoush in last year's finals series when Sam Burgess pulled his hair and copped a controversial one-match ban.
Mitchell's shift from Bondi to Redfern is just the latest chapter of the famed Book of Feuds chronicling rugby league's most famous rivalry, and promises a bumper build-up to their round 3 clash at ANZ Stadium.
Robinson says neither his relationship with Mitchell or his critical role in the Roosters' back-to-back premierships can be diminished by the messy end to his time in red, white and blue.
"We saw each other pre-Christmas a couple of times," he said.
"It's hard to explain. People want to be black and white about these things. It's disappointing I guess for all of us the way that it finished.
The best of Latrell Mitchell's time at the Roosters
"We all would've liked it to be a lot cleaner but our relationship's strong. When you go through those years like we have, that stuff's not lost.
"We had our time together, we had our conversation. Monday had no effect on me personally to be honest.
"We knew where we were at and we knew our time had come to an end. I'm going to support Latrell for the rest of his career.
"What he delivered for us, in his time here, not only a couple of premierships, also an under 18s premiership, all that time through, that's not lost."