TALENT has never been the issue for Pernell Filipo.
For Newcastle Wildfires coach Scott Coleman it was a matter of getting the powerhouse centre into a consistent training program.
Filipo is set to make his Shute Shield debut in place of Taulogo Lalaga against premiers Sydney University at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
Lalaga limped off with a hamstring issue 18 minutes into the 46-11 loss to Eastwood. He will be assessed at training on Wednesday but appears long odds to be fit.
Connor Mulhearn did a great job off the bench at inside centre against Eastwood but is better suited to fly-half.
Pernell played strongly for the Wildfires' second grade side in a 31-24 win over Eastwood in a trial.
"Pernell has just needed some consistency," said Coleman, who coached the former schoolboy star at Hamilton last season after a stint in Sydney at West Harbour. "He has been in and out fitness wise. He is actually having a crack in this shortened campaign.
"He has dropped a fair bit of weight and is starting to look pretty sharp on his feet again. He is pretty agile for a big man and has good skills when he backs himself."
Mulhearn is also likely to start against the Students, with Brendan Holliday almost certain to move to fullback to cover the loss of Chad Northcott, who has work commitments.
Melbourne Rising playmaker Michael Maloney arrived last week but has only started training after returning from Canada, where he was on holidays.
"Michael Maloney hasn't had a training session yet and will play second grade this week," Coleman said.
Northcott was electric at the back against the Woodies. Twice he chipped and regathered and was a constant threat returning the football.
"We lose that bit of x-factor at the back but it gives us another kicking option," Coleman said. "That is probably how I'll go - play Connor at 10 with Brendan dropping to fullback.
"Conner showed he can handle it. If you had told him he would be playing Shute Shield first grade at 12, I imagine he would have panicked. But he jumped straight in there at the last minute and had a crack.
"He only missed one tackle, which was great, and he had plenty of traffic directed his way. Their big inside centre and number eight ran at him all day."
Coleman was impressed with a number of players in second grade, in particular Sitiveni Waqa, and has asked the NHRU if they can field a team for the remainder of the season.
"I have 42 at training and need the guys who are not in the [match day] 23 to be playing games," Coleman said. "With the local competition being canned, there is no where for them to get game time. If they don't play, I fear they will quit. Where do I pull players from when we need them.
"Sitiveni was really good at seven in seconds. He made a few breaks and scored two tries, where he picked and drove through the ruck. It was head's up footy. He actually got angry and put a couple of shots on."
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