THE Dragons halves picture is currently about as clear as a Jackson Pollock painting, but incumbent No. 7 Adam Clune isn't about to meekly surrender the jumper he made his own last season.
In a reward for persistence, Clune debuted on his 25th birthday in round four last season and went on to play a further 14 games, missing just two due to injury. Having spent the previous five years as a part-timer with the club, his form was enough to earn a two-year contract extension and walk off the field in round 20 with the seven on his back.
The belated debut was a good news story in a season with conspicuously few others for the Dragons, but Clune says he's not looking to hang his hat on merely breaking into the NRL.
"You don't really reflect on it too much until people ask you about it," Clune said of his debut season.
"Obviously I'm really proud to get there but hopefully it's just the start. I don't want to come in and [just] play 15 games, I really want to push for a long career. After a fair while grinding away part time, it's an awesome feeling to be able to come here every day and just focus on my footy.
"I think [what I have] coming into preseason, even more than when I was playing last year, is that belief. It took me a while to debut and probably looked like it wasn't going to happen there at one stage, but I've really got that belief now that I can come in and guide the team around and do the job as a seven, or a six if need be.
"I really feel I've got a lot to offer the Dragons. I want to be here a long time and help get the club to a premiership. That's what I'm looking forward to."
That Clune became the only constant in a wildly changing spine last season says plenty about the club's campaign. That a little more than minimum wage 15-gamer could be a genuine chance at unseating one of two million-dollar halves is even stranger, but it's a reality.
Big-money pair Corey Norman and Ben Hunt endured indifferent seasons, with Norman dropped twice and Hunt shifting between the hooker, halves and the interchange. He may yet wear the No. 9 in 2021, while Jayden Sullivan is also in the picture having partnered Clune in round 20 last season.
New coach Anthony Griffin has kept his cards close to his chest on what way he's leaning but Clune feels all four are starting with a clean slate.
"I'm not looking at it as my jumper or that I've got first crack, I've got a lot of work to do to get that," Clune said.
"We've got a new coaching staff here, some new systems, and some other great players vying for the halves. I've got to put my best foot forward at training every day and try and get better because that's going to give me the chance to play.
"Everyone seems to be fighting for their spot and no one's guaranteed a position. That's showing in training because everyone's thinking 'there's a chance for me to play here if I can train well and perform well'.
"There's been a lot of talk about new systems and adjustments we're making as a team first and foremost. My focus is there at the moment, when we play some trials or start doing some more 13-on-13 stuff I'll be looking for more specific feedback.
"I've got to train well, trial well, and if things fall into place I'll be looking to take my opportunity. Everyone's got to put their best foot forward and whatever happens will happen."
Whatever does happen, Clune hopes 2021 does see an end to the constant shifting of positions that plagued his side's 2020 season.
"If you look at the top teams, they've got low injury rates and a lot of combinations on the edge," Clune said.
"You look at the Storm left edge, edges like that in the competition, it really helps if you can play week in week out and get those reps in at training. "That's one thing I found last year coming into the NRL.
"I think I had four different back rowers, a few different centres. Maybe in reserve grade you can get away with it, but coming into first grade [you can't].
"If I can get the start I'll be looking to hold it down because building combinations really helps. If I can come in and get those reps in with the same people each week I think it'll se super beneficial for our attack and defence."