HE’S already been pencilled in as the Dragons hooker for next season but St George Illawarra recruit Cameron McInnes says he has a fight on his hands to lock down the No. 9 jumper at his new club.
The 22-year-old former Junior Kangaroo hit the training paddock for the first time in Dragons colours this week after committing to the club on a two-year deal.
McInnes was first expected to shift to Wollongong for the 2016 season before Isaac Luke’s unexpected decision to depart for New Zealand at the end of 2015 saw the Botany product remain with his junior club.
It’s not a decision he regrets but when the departure of Mitch Rein saw that door re-open this year, McInnes said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity a second time.
“I was very very close to coming [last year] but with Isaac Luke leaving to go to New Zealand the opportunity to stay [with Souths] came up,” McInnes said.
“Being a hometown boy born and bred in the Souths area I thought it was the best thing for me to do at the time. Whether it was or wasn’t is irrelevant now but when the opportunity came up again this year I knew in my heart I had to take it.”
Rein’s departure has prompted most observers to lock McInnes in as Dragons hooker for 2017 but, with the likes of Josh McCrone and Siliva Havili still in the ranks, the Botany product knows he has a fight on his hands to make the No. 9 jersey his own.
“People are looking at it that way but I’m still not the starting hooker here at the Dragons,” McInnes said.
“They’ve probably signed me with that vision in mind and that’s my vision as well but I’ve got a lot of work to do to get there. I’ve come in here to compete against the other players that are here and the best man wins the job.
“I feel I’ve done my apprenticeship now and and part of coming here is about stepping out of that and really establishing myself.”
He won’t be the only player looking to establish himself in 2017 with Drew Hutchison the hot tip to wear the No. 7 alongside McInnes in a new look Dragons spine. McInnes said the prospect of playing alongside his former Junior Kangaroos teammate is an exciting one.
“There’s some great players in those key positions with Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan overseas [on Test duty] and Drew Hutchison is someone I’ve played with before,” McInnes said.
“He’s a great player with all the skills and he’s a really calm presence out there on the field which is a great attribute for a half to have. It’s a young spine as well to so there’s a good opportunity for us to not only have quick success but to build something which is exciting.”
How that new spine will come together remains one of the biggest question marks hanging over the Dragons next year as they look to bounce back from a dismal 2016 campaign. It means the spotlight will shine brightly on the men in the key positions but, having spent his entire career to date in Sydney’s rugby league fish bowl, McInnes is no stranger to scrutiny.
“It’s all I know. You’re always under the microscope,” McInnes said.
“You’ve just got to silence that noise and know what you’re working towards as a group because there’s going to ups and downs. It’s a long year so the teams that keep their focus the longest are the ones who end up at the business end of the season.”