Dragons prop Blake Lawrie has given an insight into the fierce selection battle which resulted in big-name stars Trent Merrin, Issac Luke and Tim Lafai being overlooked for Saturday’s match against the Warriors.
Lawrie, who started the opening two rounds, has been named on the interchange in a revamped Dragons line-up after the return of captain Cameron McInnes at hooker, forwards Tariq and Korbin Sims and winger Mikaele Ravalawa.
Centre Euan Aitken has also been recalled on the bench after being dropped for the round two match against Penrith.
Merrin, Luke, Lafai, Jacob Host and Billy Britain are the players to make way from the team that lost 32-28 to the Panthers on March 20 and Lawrie said the contest for positions had been intense since training resumed four weeks ago.
“Everyone gets on well but the competition for forward spots and outside back spots has been second to none and the intensity at training has been the highest it’s been throughout the whole year because everyone is ready to go,” Lawrie said.
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“There have been no easy or gentleman’s agreements, like losing your legs after contact and everyone has been fighting to play the ball.
“There have been a couple of stray elbows and a couple of people coming in hard from the inside.”
With the Canterbury Cup cancelled this season due to COVID-19, players who miss out on a place in Paul McGregor’s top squad each week have nowhere to play.
Lawrie said that increased the fight for spots as everyone in the training squad wanted to play and players were wearing bruises from the physicality of opposed sessions.
“In the forwards there is a lot of competition, especially with Korbin coming back and Tariq coming back from his suspension so everyone is on their toes,” Lawrie said.
“We have got a squad of about 30 here and Mary has only got 17 spots to fill so it is tough competition but the boys have been training well and ripping in.”
Test prop Paul Vaughan required stitches after a recent head clash and Lawrie admitted there had been plenty of niggle on the training paddock.
“Paul was getting filthy because he is competitive, like all of us are, so I was stirring the pot a bit and he didn’t like it. He was fuming,” Lawrie said.
“There were a few head clashes. I think we were just a little too eager at times because everyone wants to get out there and play footy.”