With just under two months to go until the 2021 season kicks off, teams are starting to take shape.
Some players face the challenge of a positional switch while new recruits focus on locking down a starting spot at their new club.
Now is the time for a coach to experiment with his team to find the strongest combinations and further develop new skills amongst their squads. That’s exactly what the likes of Broncos coach Kevin Walters and Dragons coach Anthony Griffin are doing.
Meanwhile, with Cameron Smith not attending pre-season training, life without the legendary skipper has started to set in… but who will have the little ‘c’ next to their name now?
Read on for the latest around the grounds teams update in our Pre-season Diary.
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KEVVIE LOOKS FOR STAGGS’ REPLACEMENT
Walters faces the first half of his debut season at the helm without star centre Kotoni Staggs who isn’t expected to return from an ACL injury until Round 13.
Walters has already started preparations with shifting young gun Tesi Niu to the centres during pre-season.
Niu played six NRL games for Brisbane last season — four of those at fullback and two off the bench.
After impressing in those six games it was expected he’d inherit Darius Boyd’s No.1 jersey in 2021 however Staggs’ injury in the final round of last season has forced Walters to rethink things.
Niu stands at 177cm and weighs 90kg — it’s understood he’s bulked up over the off-season and is quite powerful in both attack and defence.
Walters told Foxsports.com.au that although Niu will spend a lot of time at right centre during pre-season he’ll likely see some games at fullback too.
“He’ll be training in the centres and a bit of fullback — he’ll probably be used in both of those positions. It’s good for his development to train in different positions,” Walters said.
“That’s what pre-season is all about, to get them familiar with their positions and different situations that they find themselves in, both in defence and attack.
“He’s a guy with great athletic ability, so we’re very happy with his progress. Obviously he has a long way to go but very happy with what he’s been doing so far in our pre-season.”
“I feel he can be good in both positions. We see that with a lot of players where they can cover multiple positions and Tesi that style of player.
“Just for the moment we’re parking him in that right centre position — doesn’t mean he’s going to stay there — and we know he’s had some good games at fullback as well in the Intrust Super Cup. We’re happy to have him on board and we’re just working on those areas that he needs improving in.”
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Niu won’t be the only player to be tested in a new position. Walters says he’ll do that with more players throughout pre-season so he can both learn more about each player’s strengths and weaknesses and to determiner where they excel at.
“Yes (will shift more players around) because I’m a little bit unfamiliar with a lot of them and their skills so that’s what this time is about as well, letting them express themselves in different positions and letting all of the coaches and performance staff have a look at them in different scenarios across the field.”
Utility back Jamayne Isaako has been training at fullback. The 24-year-old had an injury scare at training on Wednesday, however Walters says it’s nothing to be worried about.
“He did it before Christmas as well, he just irked an old injury. It’s not anything dramatic, he might miss a few more days of training but we expect to see him back before too long.”
Isaako was quiet last season — he only appeared 10 times for the Broncos. However, 2021 could be a different story with the 2018 Dally M Rookie of the Year springing to Walters’ mind first when asked who had really stood out during pre-season.
While Walters won’t give any hints on who will partner Anthony Milford in the halves he did mention that both candidates — Tom Deardan and Brodie Croft — have both impressed him at training.
As for the Broncos’ young but hugely talented forward pack, Tevita Pangai Junior “has been one of the better ones.”
Pangai Jnr had a tumultuous 2020 season. The 24-year-old was busted breaking the bubble while attending a barber shop opening. In August he was stood down without pay for the remainder of the season, and fined $30,000 by the NRL.
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BIRD PREPARES FOR POSITIONAL SWITCH
New Dragons recruit Jack Bird is keen to click the reset button on his career and it looks like that will involve a new position.
Bird was tipped to play lock in 2021 — a position he’s been keen to play ever since he first joined the Broncos in 2018 — however Wide World of Sports reports the 25-year-old has been training on an edge.
“Jack has the makings of a top back-rower. He may start the year in the backs but we see him as a very dangerous edge runner,” a Dragons source told WWOS.
STAR TITANS RECRUIT EYES NO.13 JERSEY
After signing back in 2019, premiership-winner Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is finally a Titan and the State of Origin star has his sights set on filling the void Jai Arrow has left.
Arrow was the Titans’ most impressive and consistent forwards. His departure has left the No.13 jersey up for grabs and Fa’asuamaleaui wants to make it his.
“There is a lot of competition here and it is good competition and I have still got to work hard to try and get that spot,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“Obviously it is one of my goals to try and get that number thirteen (jersey).
“Especially coming a bit late in the pre-season I have got to go that extra length to try and seal that spot.
“My goal is to get that thirteen and he (Arrow) did a really good job there for years and I want to do a good job there too if I do get the jersey.
“I would be excited if I did.”
LIFE AFTER CAPTAIN CAM
Ryan Papenhuyzen has backed the Bromwich brothers Kenny and Jesse to become the next Storm captains.
With Cameron Smith not attending Melbourne’s pre-season camp in Geelong, talk turned to who might become the next Storm skipper.
“The two that stand out are the Bromwich brothers,” Papenhuyzen said.
“They’ve been here for a while. They’re not going to lead like Cam, they’re going to lead like they are. Our whole group respects them. It’s about adjusting to other leadership styles.
“Kenny Bromwich is really calm and he strikes me as one of those people, it’s just that sort of aura and Kenny’s got that.
“There’s a few others but he really stands out.”
Meanwhile, Papenhuyzen revealed how impressed he was by the competition for places at fullback.
Nicho Hynes is Papenhuyzen’s established deputy, but the Storm No.1 said he liked what he saw from tribalist Michael Purcell, a winger or fullback nicknamed the ‘Kangaroo Catcher’.
“It’s pretty competitive with Nicho, he’s really talented,” Papenhuyzen added. “Little Purcs has come down from Brisbane and he’s an unbelievable talent. He reminds me of Josh Addo-Carr a bit.
“There’s a few other boys who don’t have a position but are willing to learn to play wing or fullback. Having them come into the squad has been refreshing and I’m able to share my experiences with them.”
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