Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has declared young playmaker Ata Hingano a near certain starter for round one of the NRL season in the absence of Kieran Foran.
Hingano was composed at five-eighth in yesterday's 26-6 NRL trial win over the Gold Coast Titans at Palmerston North and is now set to again partner Shaun Johnson in the halves when the Warriors face the Newcastle Knights at Mt Smart Stadium on March 5.
The 19-year-old made his NRL debut against North Queensland late last year and also appeared the following week against Wests Tigers, while he has come on to start the year strongly throughout the Warriors preseason campaign.
With Kiwis international Foran not eligible to play until round three at the earliest, Hingano has been competing with fellow half Mason Lino but Kearney confirmed the Junior Kiwis star was the frontrunner to fill the No 6 jersey after a solid 80 minute performance against the Titans.
"Definitely," said Kearney. "I didn't get the opportunity to put Mason on because I wanted to have a good look at Ata. Both of them have had good preseasons.
"Ata defends really well and in terms of integrating him and getting him into the attacking programme and what we're doing at the moment, that will come as he gets a lot more comfortable within the group."
There's also a spot up for grabs in the Warriors front row, with senior prop Ben Matulino to miss the opening rounds with a knee injury. Fellow props Charlie Gubb and Albert Vete have made good contributions, having both started the two trial matches.
But the issue is clouded with Jacob Lillyman, Sam Lisone and James Gavet all producing strong games off the bench in their first hit-out yesterday, while Kearney has also been enthused by the efforts of young forwards Bunty Afoa and Isaiah Papalii.
"I really haven't made my mind up," he said. "I'll have a look at what that looks like close up on the video and get a feel for what that looks like over the next week or so and go from there.
"James Gavet showed some good signs also, Sam showed some good signs, and in fairness our two young back-rowers Bunty and Isaiah had wonderful performances."
Meanwhile, combinations out wide are starting to take shape, with Kiwis centre pairing David Fusitu'a and Solomone Kata likely to start the season, despite the latter making two basic handling errors in four minutes against the Titans.
With the Warriors leading 14-6 and still searching for the knockout blow, Kata dropped the ball cold from a scrum win and then spilled the next pass that came his way to again let the Titans off the hook.
Kearney has faith in the 22-year-old to rectify matters but expects more from his players regardless of the stage of the season.
"I know Sol takes his game very seriously and he was very disappointed in himself," he said.
"But that's the lesson. Regardless of it being a trial and getting yourself ready, if you've been given the responsibility of going out there and performing for the team, you need to get your job done."