New Zealand Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has revealed plans to offer train-and-trial prop Jamayne Taunoa-Brown a permanent contract, as the club prepares to cover for the loss of Bunty Afoa to a season-ending knee injury.
Experienced front-rower Afoa suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a training session last week and is scheduled to have surgery next month.
The Warriors have one vacant spot in their top-30 squad, and while 23-year-old Taunoa-Brown's impressive pre-season already had him in a good position to pick up a contract, Afoa's misfortune means the Warriors will now move to ensure he remains in Auckland.
After failing to nail down a spot during stints with Melbourne and Newcastle previously, Victoria-born Taunoa-Brown was given a chance by Warriors recruitment guru Peter O'Sullivan last year and has taken it with both hands.
"At the moment we are making sure that we keep [Jamayne] around for at least another year," Kearney told NRL.com.
"What that looks like in a month's time [in terms of what type of contract] I am not 100% sure, but Jamayne will be around the footy club.
Five key match-ups of the Warriors' 2020 draw
"I couldn't fault him since he's arrived and that's why we are adamant that we want to keep him at our footy club.
"He's ticked a lot of boxes, he's a big body and very skilful.
"Sometimes when you get players that have I guess not made the most of an opportunity they have been given in the past, it makes their desire and drive a little bit stronger."
Hours after the Warriors play a trial against Melbourne in Palmerston North this Saturday, Taunoa-Brown will have the chance to show what he's got against NRL opponents when he lines up for the Indigenous All Stars on the Gold Coast.
Kearney said even after the loss of Afoa he's comfortable with the state of the club's front-row stocks.
Experienced props Leeson Ah Mau and Agnatius Paasi are likely to remain the first-choice starters, with the previously out-of-favour Sam Lisone and towering rookie Jackson Frei among the candidates to assume Afoa's spot on the interchange.
Isaiah Papali'i is also set to play as a dedicated middle forward this year, after being a starting second-rower in 20 of his 23 games last season.
Following a dismal last-place finish at last weekend's NRL Nines in Perth, the majority of the Warriors' squad for Saturday's trial is made up of fringe first-graders and those untried at NRL level.
David Fusitu'a and new recruit Wayde Egan are named to play for the first time this year, having overcome hamstring and shoulder issues respectively, but Kearney said their inclusion is only to ensure they are ready for the club's final trial against the Wests Tigers on March 1.
"I think it's important for those two guys to get a bit of confidence and game time under their belt," Kearney told NRL.com
"In terms of exactly how much time it is and what it looks like, we are not going to keep them out there for the entirety of the match.
"It's just preparation for the following week which will be a dress rehearsal for round one."