Fullback to the future: Watson breaks dual droughts

It seems a long time since Knights fullback Connor Watson had a competitive on-field run and far longer since he did so at fullback but he broke both droughts in encouraging fashion.

Watson put in an encouraging 40 minutes in his team's trial against the Dragons in Wollongong on Saturday.

The former Roosters utility's first season in the Hunter was a frustrating one - he managed 15 games, all at five-eighth. There were three to start the season before a layoff with a shoulder injury. There were 11 more mid-season with all bar the last two coming while regular halves partner Mitch Pearce was out with a pec tear, before a groin strain put Watson back on the sidelines.

After another month out, his final game in round 24 lasted less than 50 minutes before his season was ended and he went for groin surgery.

In 2018 he played just six games alongside Pearce, 12 alongside fullback Kalyn Ponga (with whom he has swapped jerseys this season), and just three (rounds 1-3 last year) with all three on the park together.

But there were encouraging signs against the Dragons despite not playing at fullback since round 23 of 2017 for the Roosters.

Despite a howling gale he was faultless under the high ball, including one hugely impressive mark under a ton of pressure from opposite number Gareth Widdop before making a handy 30-metre dash.

"It's a good start; it was a pretty intense game to be honest for a first trial, it felt like we were playing round one," Watson said.

"It was good fun, it was good to get out there and blow the cobwebs out. It's my first game since surgery as well, I made it through. I was a little bit nervous today, I haven't played footy in a while.

"I feel like I'm in really good shape. I could have probably played a full 80. It was just good to get through all the running, back to what you do and what you love. I think all the boys were in great shape. Hopefully we can stay injury free and we should have a big year."

Watson said a junior career spent at the back and an off-season spent exclusively in that role and catching bombs had him well prepared for his return.

"There's still a few things to tidy up defensively, I think that's where we were struggling a bit. Our attack was there, even though there was a few forced errors you could see we were opening them up, it was just about finishing them off."

As a fullback it will be Watson's job to organise the defensive line, which he was devoting a lot of attention toward during the game.

"Just the ruck speed, we've got to slow it down a bit, it was too fast especially when we got down to our red zone on our goal line D, it was too fast," he continued.

"When it gets too fast down there it makes it hard to organise the line but we'll keep working on that. Better to risk giving a penalty away than risk giving them a quick play-the-ball."

Asked when his last game at fullback was, Watson was immediately able to name round 23 of 2017. It was no fluke – asked about his combination with fellow spine players Ponga and Pearce, he immediately replied the three hadn't featured in the same match since round three last year.

"It was our first 40 playing together in a very long time, me and Kalyn and Pearcey haven't played together since round three last year," he said.

"We've all been there training in the off season and we're pretty happy with where our combinations are, we're all on the same page."