Usually, depth is something that coaches welcome, but for St George Illawarra Dragons coach Paul McGregor managing that playing depth during the season to give competing players a fair chance to develop will make a major difference to retention of players in 2020.
The embarrassment of riches at the Dragons particularly in the forwards again surfaced this week with the selection of Joss Kerr, Dragons ISP front rower, who has yet to make his first NRL appearance, in the All-Stars team to play next week.
With a starting front row of James Graham and Paul Vaughan with Jeremy Latimore and Broncos recruit Korbin Sims likely to warm the bench, it is hard to see Josh Kerr making an NRL appearance for the Dragons this year bar multiple injuries to the front row.
There are of course two spots left on the bench, but one spot is likely to be taken by the Dragons fullback last season Matt Dufty who is likely to lose his position to English fullback Gareth Widdop with Corey Norman taking on Widdop’s place at 5/8.
The remaining spot on the bench in the forwards is a tossup between attack or defence with Dragons attacking second rower Luciana Leilua facing competition from tough front rower Blake Lawrie who played very well towards the end of the season last year.
Whoever loses that battle will join Joss Kerr and a host of other promising Dragons forwards including Jacob Host, Lachlan Timms, Hayden Lomax, and Reese Robson in the ISP.
The embarrassment of riches is slightly less in the backs where the retirement of winger Jason Nightingale and departure of other winger PNG international Nene McDonald to the Cowboys has left two wing positions to fill.
Competition for these two positions is fierce with Matt Dufty possibly having to compete for a wing position if McGregor elects to go with four forwards on the bench.
Dufty will be competing with Dragons finals sensation the Zac Lomax, ex-Bronco Jonas Pearson, promising Fijian Mikaela Ravalava, younger Dragon Jason Saab, and ex-Bronco Lachlan Maranta.
It is of course likely that all these players will get their chance in the trial matches, but more importantly mid last season Paul McGregor introduced a rotation system to the bench which saw one back or forward rotated each week.
Jack De Belin’s criminal charges may open up his lock position later in the season and it is likely that McGregor may test out potential replacements early in the season for De Belin’s spot.
Injuries and origin will provide other opportunities particularly in the forwards.
It is going to be a long season and one thing we can rely on is that coach McGregor will not lose any hair agonizing over selection decisions, but how many young squad members will he lose at the end of 2019?