Incumbent NSW fullback James Tedesco is hoping the three separate surgeries he has undergone since his last NRL game have him fighting fit to retain his Blues jersey as he aims to play every possible game for the Wests Tigers and NSW this year.
The exciting but injury-prone custodian had his season ended prematurely courtesy of an accidental Ryan James high shot that broke his jaw at Campbelltown in Round 23.
He had already been dealing with breathing issues resulting from a couple of breaks to his nose – the most obvious of which was in his Origin debut when he spent most of his impressive interstate debut with cotton wool stuffed in there to stem the bleeding. Tedesco also underwent surgery to his sinuses to correct that issue once his 2016 season was ended.
Lastly, the 24-year-old had screws removed from his knee after a previous injury (a fractured kneecap suffered against Canberra that ended his already-interrupted 2014 season early).
"I had a good three surgeries in a few months," Tedesco told NRL.com.
"Before Christmas I was mainly in rehab but after Christmas sort of hit the ground running and the body's feeling really good. I've done contact and done fitness and the knee and everything has pulled up sweet so I'm ready to go.
"Before Christmas I was sort of easing the body into it but after the break I've done a fair bit and everything's pulled up sweet so I'm definitely confident with the body."
Tedesco has been named in a strong Wests Tigers trial team to face the Cowboys on Friday night, although halves Mitch Moses (heel bruising) and Luke Brooks (hamstring and wisdom teeth) won't be risked. It won't quite be Tedesco's first game since Round 23 in August because he played in the Prime Minister's XIII fixture in late September but he concedes it feels like forever since he laced on a boot.
"I played the Prime Minister's game but I only played about 30 minutes there. It feels like I haven't played footy for a while now so I can't wait to get out there," he said.
"This will be our main trial this Friday with a pretty strong team playing. We've worked a lot on our defence and we know that was a big issue last year so we're hoping to improve on that this year," he added.
While Tedesco is quick to point out there is a lot of footy to played before Origin I teams are picked, he is unafraid to say he is targeting a start in all three games despite strong competition from the likes of Matt Moylan, Jarryd Hayne and Josh Dugan.
"I know if I can get off to a good start to the year and stay on the field, I'm hopeful I can retain that spot," he said.
"Obviously that's a long way away and everyone's already talking about it. I want to focus on playing good footy for the Tigers and if that warrants a spot I'll be stoked obviously. Having a taste last year and having one game, I want to play all three this year but I'll have to play good footy first.
"There's some competition [for the Blues fullback spot], that's always healthy. There's always going to be competition every year for a spot. If I can stay on the field, that's my main goal, staying injury-free, hopefully I can get back there and retain my spot."
Tedesco's immediate target after Friday's trial is a Round 1 blockbuster against the Rabbitohs and his first ever game opposing former skipper Robbie Farah.
"Yeah it will be interesting! It's happened a few times, like against Benji [Marshall] where it's weird seeing them in another side but we know Farah's going to come out and want to play and create some havoc against us," he said.
"We have to be on our toes but we don't want to focus on him too much – we know it's just another game and Souths have a pretty big forward pack so we have to contain them first."
This article first appeared on NRL.com