MICHAEL LAWRENCE has bulked-up in a bid to make a Huddersfield Giants’ starting pack spot his own.
The former England Academy winger now weighs in at over 100kg after spending a first full pre-season training with the forwards.
The 22-year-old has spent the past two seasons switching from centre to back row.
But Lawrence has now set his sights on a permanent move, even though he knows the competition for a regular back-row berth for Super League XVIII promises to be ferocious.
“I now regard myself as a back-rower who can switch to centre, rather than a centre who can switch to the pack,” he revealed.
“That’s particularly the case after spending my pre-season working with the forwards. It’s something I’ve never done before.
“I’ve really enjoyed the extra physical demands of the training, and that’s made me even more confident I’m ready to make the switch.
“When you work with the forwards you spend a lot more of your time bashing each other about, whereas in the backs there’s a lot more passing and catching practice.
“I’ve had to put on a bit more weight to make the adjustment, which means I’m now the heaviest I’ve ever been. I’m now over 100kg, which is over 16 stone.
“But thanks to the work of (head conditioner) Greg Brown, I’ve also been able to maintain my levels of fitness, which means I’ll still be capable of playing a full 80 minutes.
“And because there’s so much competition for places in the pack, I hope that’s something I’ll be able to use to my advantage.”
Lawrence will get the first chance to show how productive pre-season has been in tomorrow week’s opening trial clash at St Helens (8.00).
“Things do appear to be going fantastically, but the acid test is obviously when we get out there on the field,” he added.
“That’s why we’re all feeling really excited about next Friday.
“But, at the same time, we know how important a fixture it is, both individually and collectively.
“First and foremost, it gives us the chance to see how things are coming together as a team, and to see how our combinations are working.
“The Saints game will also give some of our younger players the chance to show everyone exactly what they can do. They have been impressive in training, but it’s obviously what they do out there on the field that really matters.
“Then there are the massive individual battles to make sure you get a spot for the opening Super League game at Saints (Saturday, February 2).
“Looking at the make-up of the squad, it looks like it’s going to be a lot harder to secure a regular starting spot in the pack than in the backs.
“But that’s a challenge that excites me.
“Because this is all pretty new to me, I need to be pushed as hard as I possibly can to make sure I’m as good as I possibly can be as a back-row forward.
“I’m sure having so many quality back-rowers around me can only help in my development.
“I’m learning off them all the time, and because I’m still 22 I know I’ve hopefully got a lot of good number of years ahead of me in the forwards.
“My major hope is this is the start of what proves to be a massively succesful switch. At the end of the day, that’s obviouslty down to me.”
Those ready to join Lawrence in the back-row battle are Brett Ferres (squad number 11), Luke O’Donnell (12), David Faiumu (13), Jason Chan (16), Ukuma Ta’ai (17), Jamie Cording (19), Jacob Fairbank (20) and Dale Ferguson (21).
On top of that, lightning-fast Larne Patrick (15) could also join the fray, although Giants head coach Paul Anderson may prefer to utilise him at prop, primarily as an impact player off the bench.
The other senior front-rowers at Anderson’s disposal are Eorl Crabtree (8), Craig Kopczak (10), Anthony Mullally (22) and Stuart Fielden (29).