Drinkwater looms as halfback replacement

RUGBY LEAGUE 

Little-known St George Illawarra recruit Josh Drinkwater has emerged as the club's halfback option to fill the void left by Ben Hornby, but for now he is happy to sit behind established stars Nathan Fien and Jamie Soward.

Drinkwater has loomed as a contender to partner either Soward or Fien in the halves after an impressive start to his first preseason at the club since switching from Manly.

In his first major interview Drinkwater revealed that while he was content to start 2013 behind Soward or Fien, his main aim was to become Hornby's successor.

The late retirement of Hornby and the season-ending knee injury to Kyle Stanley has left Dragons coach Steve Price with a dearth of halves options.

"I want to be the long-term seven," Drinkwater said.

"For the time being, I'm just here to learn my trade from those two guys.

"If Pricey thinks I'm ready and gives me a chance then I'll take his word and I'll be ready.

"I think I'm ready to go but it's just about timing and playing good, consistent footy, and if that's in the NSW Cup or wherever I'll wait my turn, and once I do I'll have to take it.

"I'd like to have a game in first grade."

Stuck behind representative halves Kieran Foran and Dally Cherry-Evans at Manly, Drinkwater switched to the Dragons on a two-year deal.

The Central Coast product moved to Wollongong after finishing with the most try assists in the under-20s competition despite Manly finishing third-to-last.

He hopes to replicate the rise of Cherry-Evans and South Sydney's Adam Reynolds, who went from virtual unknowns to playing starring roles for their team at halfback in their rookie seasons.

"I think my attacking game is my best [attribute]," Drinkwater, 20, said.

"I've got a fairly strong kicking game and I can read the game well and lead the team around the park. Pricey wants me to keep the talk up.

"Coming into training with the blokes I look up to was tough at first, but now I'm getting used to all the boys."

Veteran centre Matt Cooper has been impressed by Drinkwater's skills. Unfamiliar with his new teammate before the pair met at preseason, Drinkwater has made a big impact.

"He surprised me actually," Cooper said.

"I hadn't seen much of him play but everyone I asked had big raps on him.

"He is only young, so I think he is a player of the future. I'm sure he'll get some games this year."

Despite leading the Kiwis to a World Cup victory at halfback in 2010, Fien has not played a full NRL season from the scrum base since 2006, spending a large chunk of his time at hooker.

Drinkwater is expected to get his first chance to impress in the Dragons opening trial against North Queensland in Cairns on February 16.

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