A dressing down of St George Illawarra's fringe first-graders by coach Paul McGregor has primed the Telstra Premiership leaders to cope with the upcoming representative period.
With his starting line-up unaffected by injuries in the opening 10 rounds, McGregor has been preparing for the loss of up to seven stars on Holden State of Origin duty by using players from their Intrust Super Premiership team on the interchange in recent games.
Hame Sele has made two NRL appearances while Jacob Host, Reece Robson and Zac Lomax have each played a game from the bench and this Sunday in Mudgee against Canberra it will be boom prop Blake Lawrie's turn.
McGregor made sure the players were aware he hasn’t implemented a rotation policy when he addressed them three weeks ago after back-to-back losses by the ISP team.
"He called us in about three weeks ago and said you need to step up, which a lot of us have done," Lawrie said.
"Our standards weren’t up to his standards and he said you need to step up because I am not looking for those standards you have played in NSW Cup."
Since the rev-up, the second-tier team has thrashed Western Suburbs 42-12 and beaten second-placed Canterbury 21-20 to climb into equal third place.
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"When the first-grade coach talks, it hits home a bit more," ISP coach Mathew Head said.
"It was all based around our defensive principles and our efforts, and all of those kind of things. When things aren’t going great at reserve-grade level you still have to keep your standards and keep delivering on what you promised you would deliver on.
"If you keep doing those things, that is going to give you the best chance of playing first grade and then when you get to first grade those are the things that are going to make sure you play at a reasonable standard when you get there."
Lawrie is expected to deputise for Paul Vaughan if he selected for the Blues, while Sele, Host and Luciano Leilua, who returned from a five-week layoff in the ISP last week, would be replacements for Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin and Tariq Sims.
Robson is the back-up for hooker Cameron McInnes and Lomax is an option to cover Euan Aitken at right centre.
"It's very pleasing to get a taste of it now," Lawrie said. "If a couple of boys do get selected for Origin you are not just getting thrown into the deep end."
Head said Lawrie had responded to the pep talk from McGregor and deserved his opportunity against the Raiders.
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"He has had some different areas of his game he has had to fix up but in the last month he has certainly done that," Head said.
"We’ve got a pretty good environment where we are starting to push each other along and when someone gets promoted to first grade we see it as a collective job that one of the group can get there.
"If we can keep driving that level and pushing each other, hopefully we can only make our first-grade squad better."