A chat with Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has set up a battle between Sione Katoa and Wayde Egan for first shot at the hooking role in 2019.
Katoa said Cleary had told the pair he is leaning towards playing an 80-minute hooker during the upcoming Telstra Premiership season, leaving both rakes to compete for a round one spot during the trials.
The retirement of Peter Wallace midway through last season has left the club light-on when it comes to No.9s. It's an area where the side hasn't been dominant in attack over the past few seasons.
"If things change down the track and interchanges drop to six it makes it difficult to rotate the forwards who'll need a break," Katoa told NRL.com.
"The hooker role in the NRL has developed and I understand where Ivan is coming from, we don't want to fall behind as a club in that position.
"He's given us a heads up that the spot is up for grabs. He said if he must have two hookers he will, but ideally just wants one."
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Katoa has leaned on Wallace to help lift his game as the former Panthers rake is now on the club's coaching staff.
As a combination prior to retirement last season, Katoa and Wallace played 23 regular season games between them, but their roles were largely defence-based under Anthony Griffin.
Katoa finished 2018 averaging just 2.2 runs per game, while the club ranked last overall for running metres from that position.
One thing he said I need to work on was my kicking. It adds another dynamic to my gameSione Katoa's advice from Peter Wallace
The competition best was Damien Cook (7 runs and 78.8m), while a player like Cameron Smith averages at least 4.5 runs per game.
While Penrith's attack usually focuses on star halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary, the 24-year-old wants to add a kicking game to his bag of tricks.
"Pete's always helped me when I was coming through as a player but it adds more now that he's a coach and can spend time with a focus on my game," Katoa said.
"He gets to analyse my game a lot more now and we've looked at last year's role I played in the side. One thing he said I need to work on was my kicking. It adds another dynamic to my game.
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"I've kicked before but haven't focused on it, it's not a strong point. Now having Wal there who was an awesome kicker, whether it's long or short kicking and linking with the spine a bit more in attack, I need to be more involved.
"He said if I can work on that it will take a lot more pressure off Nathan and Jimmy with a third kicker in the side."
The battle for the No.9 jersey could also impact the long-term future for Katoa with the Tongan international off-contract at season's end.
Katoa made his debut under Cleary as a 20-year-old in the final round of the season in 2015.
"I wouldn't say I'm treating it as a big year but rather working on ways to improve and not get ahead of myself," Katoa said.
"The contract stuff will take care of itself if I can perform."