After an injury-ravaged false start to his first year as a playmaking lock, Connor Watson says a greater shift to faster play under the new rules suited his goal of migrating into Newcastle's No.13 jersey.
After two seasons at the club switching between five-eighth, fullback, hooker and a bench role, Watson migrated into a roaming, playmaking lock role off the bench in 2020.
The plan was short-lived though, with Watson quickly needed to cover injuries at hooker before suffering two separate long-term injuries of his own with a syndesmosis injury followed by a season-ending ruptured Achilles.
Now freshly back in full training, Watson said he believes an even greater shift this year to faster rules will suit his move to lock with the starting No.13 jersey his priority.
"That's been a big part of where I've been training," Watson told NRL.com.
"We did it in stages last year and I really enjoyed it, playing there against the Warriors in round one, Tigers (in round two) then I did a little bit of it against Souths (in round 10).
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"I only really had three goes at it last year and we won all those games. I was still learning but I felt like I was playing some pretty good footy. The more I play in that role the better I'm going to get at it and I think it really suits my game with the way the rules are going."
The restructured 2020 competition post-COVID with the drop to one referee and six-again interpretation sped the game up, with an even greater shift confirmed for 2021 with infringements over penalties playing a bigger role.
"Just with the rules, I think it's going to be a bit more suited to having a bit more of a half-style player in there because that way you can play with five ball players who can all move the ball and team up in attack.
"The game is getting quick and it's only getting quicker, they're putting in new things to make it faster and faster, I think a little bit less size and a bit more speed is going to be the way to go forward."
While Watson is yet to wear the blue and red No.13, and will have a task getting past likely starting lock Mitch Barnett (assuming Tyson Frizell and Lachlan Fitzgibbon get the edge spots), he said that was his goal.
"I want to start at 13. I think the game's in a spot now where it's fast enough that you can start a smaller guy at 13," he said.
"There's going to be games where you're playing bigger teams and maybe they'll start with a bigger forward pack. Where I see myself fitting is I know I can start at 13 and I think I can play big minutes there.
"I have other strings to my bow, I can play halves, fullback, centres so if the best role for me to play is 14 I'll do it but I know where I play my best footy is probably starting at 13."
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Watson knows the Achilles is a big injury to come back from but recently returned to unrestricted training, which is a big boost, having also recently signed a one-year contract extension despite his injury woes.
"I started full training last week, out at Tamworth was my first full week. It was good to be back out there, the body feels good," he said.
"I had the real big injuries last year, the Achilles and the syndesmosis which I missed six weeks with, it was frustrating.
"It was weird though, with everything else going on with the world it puts things in perspective. As scary as an Achilles is it's been sort of a blessing in disguise for me, I've been able to look at everything else and see what else I need to work on. I'm just excited and looking forward to playing footy next year.
"[The new contract] was bad timing with the injury because I was going through negotiations with it but the club was really good, the deal was always still on the table.
"I want to win a premiership here, that's my goal and I don't see myself leaving until I do so."
While the recovery is tracking well, it unfortunately won't be quick enough to allow Watson to play in the upcoming All Stars fixture.
"Nah, I spoke to the guys the other day, I won't be able to play unfortunately," he said.
"Which is a bummer, it's such a great spectacle and a great week to be a part of to go out and be in the community and give back to our people and put Indigenous people on show and show everyone what we're about.
"It's a shame I've got to miss that one but once I get this right I'm sure I'll be right to play next year."