Sydney Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa has vowed to fight tooth and nail for his starting spot and atone for a last-start performance that drew a stinging rebuke from club legend Brad Fittler.
Sio Siua Taukeiaho’s emergence as the club’s likely first-choice goal kicker has piled the pressure on representative props Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Napa, who have formed one of the Telstra Premiership’s more formidable front-row combinations in recent years.
But that reputation was smacked up and down the Allianz Stadium turf last September by Jason Taumalolo as he led the North Queensland Cowboys to a 29-16 upset that bundled the Roosters out of the finals.
Fittler piled in the following morning as well, declaring Napa and Waerea-Hargreaves “just weren’t in the game”, had “no aggression” and failed to live up to their pre-game billing when they had vowed to take on Taumalolo, the best forward in the game.
Napa admitted Fittler was bang on with his assessment of his last performance, in which Taumalolo clocked up more than double the running metres of the Roosters’ starting bookends combined.
“Yeah, that was a fair call,” Napa said of Fittler’s comments.
“In saying that, I’m not going to get bummed over an individual’s comments, especially when they’re correct.
“I just have to worry about myself and the team, and preparing myself each week.
“That poor performance, it’s still there but you can’t hold on to stuff like that too much, you do have to move on or you just won’t get the best out of yourself the next year. But it is something I’m well aware of.”
While Napa enjoyed a strong debut series for Queensland, he ended up watching the Kangaroos’ triumphant World Cup campaign from the sidelines as Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Jordan McLean moved past him in Australia’s front-row pecking order without Origin experience.
Back in clubland the rise of Taukeiaho and Isaac Liu in the Roosters middle forwards stocks has Trent Robinson considering a shake-up of his big men rotation.
Waerea-Hargreaves started last week’s trial match against the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles from the bench, which Robinson put down to the Kiwi prop initially being scheduled to sit out the game.
But with Michael Gordon’s departure to the Gold Coast Titans late last year, Taukeiaho is now being lined up to share the goal kicking duties with centre Latrell Mitchell.
Taukeiaho’s strong 89 per cent strike rate off the tee for Tonga at the World Cup has him in contention for a starting position, however Napa is still backing senior teammate Waerea-Hargreaves to be in the run-on side come round one, and welcomed the extra competition for spots at Moore Park.
“I think Jared’s played enough footy over the years to have the respect there. I’m assuming he’ll be the No.8 (in round one),” Napa told NRL.com.
“It could change but for Jared I’m sure he’ll be doing everything he can to keep that No.8 jersey. And I’ll be doing the same with the No.10.
“What’s better than competition? That’s why I play rugby league for, the competition against other teams, but there’s also that competition within our team for spots too.
“It’ll keep me on my toes and get me preparing for training and games and playing at my best throughout the season.
“Not that there hasn’t been competition before, but it’s been well-documented that it’s been more red hot than ever before.”
For his part Taukeiaho still sees himself as a lock-forward, where he has played most of his career, but remains unfussed with “where I play as long as I’m in the 17”.
The 26-year-old also insisted assistant coach Jason Taylor, whose 942 career goals as a player rank only behind Cameron Smith in the game’s history, had not made a definitive call on who would be first and second-string kicker for the Roosters’ season-opener against the Wests Tigers.
“We haven’t sat down and spoken about who’s going to take the first role,” Taukeiaho said.
“We have a kicking coach, Jason Taylor, we’ll judge that from how we go at training and how we slot them and how our techniques are going.
“Two points is a big thing in the game these days so we have to get everything right when round one starts.”