Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Keighran leading race to replace Shaun Johnson at Warriors
Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/news/109990254/-

2019-01-17 02:50:50

The battle for the first shot at replacing Shaun Johnson at the Warriors is shaping as a two-horse race.

While there is still two months before the start of the season, home-grown talent Chanel Harris-Tavita and new recruit Adam Keighran have emerged as the leading contenders to line up alongside Blake Green against the Bulldogs on March 16.

Johnson's shock release to the Sharks at the end of the last year left a major void in the halves but the club have avoided rushing into any recruitment decisions.

Coach Stephen Kearney on Thursday said that, at this stage, he was pleased with the progress of the young halves currently on the roster, leaving Harris-Tavita, Keighran and long-shot Hayze Perham in the mix for round one.

Harris-Tavita has been seen as a player of the future for the last couple of years but his time may have arrived.

Still only 19 (he turns 20 in April), Harris-Tavita was named the club's NYC player of the year in 2017 before stepping up to reserve grade the following season, where he played 20 games and scored seven tries.

He showed a glimpse of his freakish ability last year when he set up a try with a back-heel grubber - or 'scorpion kick' - while playing for the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos.

Keighran, who joined the Warriors from Penrith in the off-season, is yet to make his NRL debut but also showed plenty of promise in the lower grades at the Bulldogs and Panthers.

The former Australian Schoolboys representative is a handy goal-kicker, scoring 202 points in 23 games for Penrith's reserve grade side in 2018.

Perham is one of the club's brightest prospects and Kearney has been impressed by his work throughout pre-season.

But the 19-year-old is seen as an "outside chance" to start round one as he continues his transition from fullback to the halves.

"It's a big challenge in the NRL but he's making some progress," Kearney said.

"I think Adam and Chanel have both put their hands up over the course of the summer. Hayze is certainly another one too, they're three young men who obviously sense an opportunity."

The trio have been alternating running with the shadow first-grade side on a weekly basis while working closely with assistant coaches Stacey Jones and Todd Payten, who will oversee the attack this season.

Their first big audition comes in the Warriors' opening trial against Storm on February 22 in Geelong.

Kearney will seek input from the likes of skipper Green, skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and right-side back-rower Tohu Harris, but won't settle on a decision until after the second and final trial against Wests Tigers in Whangarei on March 2.

"Roger's (Tuivasa-Sheck) an important part of that and certainly Tohu, he's an important part because he's sitting alongside the younger half. But ultimately, I'll be making the decision I think will be best for the footy team," the coach added.

Meanwhile, Kearney said veteran hooker Issac Luke would be "touch and go" to start the season as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury.

The 31-year-old has been gradually integrated back into training but faces a crucial test in a couple of weeks' time.

"He's a bit further ahead than what we anticipated. A lot will depend on once he starts doing contact and we don't anticipate that until the back-end of this month."

Injury-plagued back-up hooker Nathaniel Roache suffered a hamstring injury before Christmas but is expected to resume full training in the coming weeks.

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