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Watson embraces utility value

Returning Roosters Connor Watson is more than happy to be regarded as a specialist utility, a role he says is only increasing in value in the modern game and one that provides constant new challenges.

Watson's four years at Newcastle were hampered by injury, which slowed down former coach Adam O'Brien's plan to turn him into a mobile, ball-playing lock.

But an injury-free 2021 allowed Watson to not only embrace a new lock role but also spend plenty of time plugging gaps at hooker, five-eighth and fullback.

Returning to the Roosters where he debuted and played 38 games in 2016-17, the 25-year-old is the true archetype of the modern Mr Fix-It.

"Utility has become a really important position and it's actually so fun and exciting all the time because it's a new challenge," Watson said.

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"So my (main) role is nine and 13 which I really enjoy and love but if I get chucked into halves or fullback it's something different you have to adapt and roll with and see if you're capable of it.

"It's a really big test to be able to go and play in all those positions and play well and I actually like the challenge of it."

Watson has started at five-eighth, hooker, fullback and lock plus plenty of times on the bench, with his main role this year to be rotating with the likes of Sam Verrills and Victor Radley in the middle of the field while providing cover for injuries elsewhere.

"As we've seen in the last couple of years in rugby league, injuries happen in every spot," he added.

"Im mostly focused on nine and 13 and then if there's an injury at six, seven, one, three/four – front row! – whatever it is, I'll jump in there.

"This pre-season I've spent a lot of time in all those spots. As we get closer to playing next week my focus has gone to nine and 13. I had to nail those roles early on in the pre-season so if I get chucked there in a game I know what I'm doing."

Watson's ability to play roles outside hooker and lock is arguably just as valuable as the spark he can provide in the middle of the field – particularly this year with potential COVID disruptions forcing players out of teams at late notice.

"It's the way the game's going, the way the world is at the moment," Watson said.

"There were examples last year where I was playing lock then captain's run, Kurt Mann got injured and it was like "Connor go play five-eighth". It's good to have guys with utility value in squads and you need it nowadays with all these unseen things that keep popping up.

"I've done that at Newcastle with Kalyn a couple of times (gone from forwards to fullback mid-game). I've played plenty of fullback here in my first stint at the Roosters too. These are all roles I've played plenty of time in."

While Watson's past few weeks have been hampered by a minor knee injury that prevented him from trialling, he said he is in no doubt for round one.

"I missed the trial games with it," he said.

"I did it a month ago and got through training all good this week … it's sweet."

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It's a nice change from the injuries he had to endure in 2018 and 2020 with the long-term Achilles injury lay-off the worst of it.

"Last year was big for me in re-finding my love for the game again," he said.

"The thing for me was no injuries more than anything else. I had a couple of injuries the couple of years before it and I was getting a bit frustrated.

"It was just nice to play every game last year and I felt like I started to find my feet and actually played footy I knew I was capable of but I was being held back a bit by getting injured for half a year for two or three years there."

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