By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Illawarra Cutters halfback Drew Hutchison may have the NSW Cup grand final to concentrate on this week but he can't deny he has his eyes on another big prize in 2017.
Hutchison – who has already played four NRL games – will spend the upcoming pre-season trying to convince Dragons coach Paul McGregor he is the right man to replace Benji Marshall at halfback next season.
The 21-year-old was afforded just one first-grade game this year at the expense of Marshall and said it made him even keener for a prolonged chance in the NRL.
"[The one game] was like a little entree, wasn't it?" Hutchison said.
"You get that taste and it makes you hungry to want to be out there every week to do that.
"There's obviously been mixed emotions this year: being stuck in reserve grade the whole year before getting your NRL chance.
"But now my main priority is leading [the Cutters] this weekend – a grand final will be a good way to cap it off.
"[The Dragons] haven't signed any new halves for next year so I'll be going into next year with hopefully a premiership under my belt and plenty of excitement."
Hutchison started from the bench in the Cutters' 18-10 preliminary final win over the Newtown Jets but there was more to his demotion than meets the eye according to coach Jason Demetriou.
The loss of Hame Sele meant veteran playmaker Josh McCrone has featured at lock recently, and rather than waste multiple interchanges Demetriou opted to start Hutchison on the sidelines.
Hutchison came on after 25 minutes against the Jets and laid on two late tries for Jacob Host and Adam Quinlan to help his side sneak away with the win.
"[Hutchison] has been getting better and better all year. His understanding of what he's doing in key moments of the game and his game management has improved out of sight," Demetriou told NRL.com.
"His tempo and vision is getting better as well. With another full pre-season under his belt, he'll definitely push for more NRL next year.
"He did a great job for us when he came on and played a huge role in the game at the back end which we had spoken about him doing.
"It's not ideal because [Hutchison, McCrone and Nona] are all starting halves at this level. But I spoke to the three of them before the finals and they have taken it on board well."
Hutchison was equally complimentary towards Demetriou in helping his development as a young playmaker.
Demetriou arrived at the Dragons at the beginning of the season from the premiership-winning North Queensland Cowboys and doubled up as an assistant to McGregor as well as being the Cutters coach.
"I've learnt a lot off [Demetriou] to be honest in terms of ball-playing. Last year when I played NRL I just had the mindset of 'you're a halfback, you just kick it long'," Hutchison said.
"But Jase, he's really good. He's good technically and it's been a good learning curve for me. You always have to think of ways to improve yourself and he's been good for that."