As much as it would mean to him to represent his Indigenous heritage, Knights livewire Connor Watson is happy to put his All Stars aspirations on hold for another year.
The Dubbo-born, NSW Central Coast junior was in the mix until he strained a pectoral muscle during a gym session last month, prompting Knights coaching staff to remove his hat from the selection ring.
That ended any chance of playing against house-mate and fellow Knights player Kalyn Ponga, who will represent the Maori side in the Harvey Norman All Stars game at AAMI Park on Friday night.
"I want him [Ponga] to do well but I'd like to see the Indigenous side win, obviously being Indigenous myself. It should be a good contest," Watson said after training with the Knights on Thursday.
"I was a chance to make it this year but I had to pull out. I had a little niggly injury that disrupted my preparation and for me, the way last year went, my first preference is to play here for the Knights.
The hardest part of Watson’s fullback switch
"We've got to win some footy games here and I actually need to stay on the paddock this year. Next year, obviously I'd like to play in the Indigenous team and represent my family, but it wasn't to be this year."
Despite the setback, the 22-year-old former Roosters utility said he was available and keen to play in trials against the Dragons at Jubilee Stadium (February 23) and Sharks at Maitland (March 2).
I love doing the dirty work … so I'll try to use my speed and strength to break tacklesKnights fullback Connor Watson
"It put me behind training for a week there, which was a bit annoying because I missed a few big sessions and that was the reason the club pulled me out," he said.
"On those camps, you're not really doing too much training so I would have been even more behind where I wanted to be, so that's why they decided that it was probably best for me to stay here.
"I might have been a bit underdone going into the game, which they didn't want to risk, especially coming off the surgery last year."
In shifting Ponga from fullback to five-eighth to partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves, Knights coach Nathan Brown is giving Watson first crack at making the No.1 jersey his own.
Of Watson's 53 NRL games to date, only four have been at fullback. Those came at the Roosters in 2017.
Me and Kalyn are different players so I think from me, you can expect more runningConnor Watson
All 15 of his starts for Newcastle last year were at five-eighth, and he started 10 times in that position for the Roosters and made another 24 appearances off the bench.
"After the trials, I'll get a sense of where I'm at but I feel comfortable there at the moment," he said.
"I've played there a lot before. I played there as a junior and played there a fair bit at the Roosters as well … but didn't train there as much as I have now.
"I was playing all over the shop, and did a bit of a pre-season there at the Roosters, learning behind Mick Gordon, but in saying that I was still training at hooker and in the halves. But now my sole focus has been at fullback and I think I'm ready to go."
Ponga had a stellar season at fullback last year, finishing second to Warriors custodian Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in Dally M Medal voting, but Watson plans to put his own spin on the position.
"Me and Kalyn are different players so I think from me, you can expect more running. Kalyn doesn't like yardage carries too much but I don't mind them," he said with a smile.
"I love doing the dirty work … so I'll try to use my speed and strength to break tackles. I like competing and playing and I think that's my strongest asset, just being there on every play supporting, so hopefully, you'll see me finish off a fair few tries this year."
Newcastle (169) were ranked 15th in team offloads last year, ahead of only the Cowboys (158), but Watson believes the arrival of David Klemmer, James Gavet and Tim Glasby should allow them to be more audacious with the ball.
"We haven't spoken about putting too much of a focus on it, but with those guys, naturally it's going to happen more anyway so it's my job to be around them and look for those off-loads and try to create something out of them," he said.
"We've got our structure and our points we want to hit on the field, but for me, it's going to mostly be about supporting and sniffing around the field looking for off-loads and half-chances, but also helping us get through our sets.
"Obviously I've played in the halves for a while so I can help Kalyn and Pearcey with a bit of game management and organisation, and it helps having three voices instead of two."