BREAKTHROUGH: Late starter Nathan Ross established himself in Newcastle’s backline last season, scoring nine tries in 19 games. Picture: Getty Images
KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown won’t need to ask late bloomer Nathan Ross twice if he wants a shot at Newcastle’s fullback vacancy during the pre-season.
A freak ankle injury that Jake Mamo sustained in Bali on holidays, which is expected to require surgery and sideline him for up to four months, will leaveBrown without a recognised custodian when the Knights resume training on Tuesday.
Queensland Origin flyer Dane Gagai spent much of last season as Newcastle’s last line of defence, but is understood his preference is to settle in the centres.
Peter Mata’utia has also played occasionally as a fullback in the NRL, while the Knights are also chasing former Parramatta utility back Ken Sio and North Queensland teenager Kalyn Ponga.
Ross, Newcastle’s leading tryscorer last season, believes fullback is potentially his best position and hopes to convince Brown inthe coming months that he is capable of handlingthe role.
“I’d really enjoy a shot at fullback,’’ Ross told the Newcastle Herald.
“I’ve played there before in reserve grade and local league. I haven’t played there in the NRL, but I got a go in the Auckland Nines. But Ienjoyplaying on the wing as well, because it presents you with opportunities to finish off tries.’’
Ross said he spoke to Brown about a positional switch during the 2016 season but both agreed “it probably wasn’t the right thing for the team’’.
He acknowledged that he would need to develophis playmaking skills.
“There are a lot of things I would need to improveto become a first-grade fullback, in particular my ball play,’’ he said.
“My running game is probably my strongest part, but if I can improve my ball play, I think I can be a real attribute to this club.’’
Already one of the fastest players in the club, the 27-year-old hopes to be even more explosive next season after recent training sessions with a sprint coach.
“I’m hoping that my top speed will be a bit quicker, but it was more about learning how to hold my top speed for longer, and the science behind it all,’’ Ross said.
“It’s very interesting the mentality behind being a sprinter …
“This year I’ve been lucky enough to not have to work during the off-season, so I’ve had some time to train and try to improve some techniques and deficiencies.’’