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'He can play prop too': How Watson came to embrace utility role

Suggest to Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson that Connor Watson can play any position except front-row, and he will tell you: “But he has played there too”.

Watson is one of the few players in Origin history who has to prepare to make his debut for NSW without knowing where he will play, as the Roosters utility is on the bench to cover fullback, five-eighth, hooker or centre, but is most likely to play in the forwards.

Blues coach Michael Maguire has compared him with Craig Wing, but Watson is even more versatile, with Robinson recounting how he played prop against Newcastle in 2022.

Connor Watson at NSW Origin training.
Connor Watson at NSW Origin training. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“Connor can play every position and I have even played him in that front-row role,” Robinson said.

“Victor [Radley] was playing lock, so it was just, ‘go on in the middle and play front-row'. I just thought, 'why can’t I play the two of them together', because Connor tackles as good as a front-rower.”

The 28-year-old’s Origin call up is a reward for a player who was in a wheelchair just 12 months ago and, not for the first time in his career, contemplating a move to the Super League because of uncertainty about his future in the NRL.

Watson, who played schoolboys rugby union alongside Roosters and NSW team-mate Angus Crichton, has been robbed of almost two full seasons by injuries – a ruptured Achilles sidelining him for seven months in 2020 and a torn patella ruling him out for all of 2023.


Those setbacks have caused him to embrace the utility role that so many players, including Watson earlier in his career, shun because there is more money and prestige for holding a regular position.

Drew Hutchison, Kurt Mann, Brandon Smith and Billy Walters are examples of players who moved clubs to play their preferred position, rather than perform a variety of roles.

Off contract at the end of last season and unable push his claims for a new deal with the Roosters or a rival club, Watson was bracing for a move to Super League.

“That part was probably the hardest, I reckon, just being injured and then not sure what was going to happen,” he told

Inside Camp: Connor Watson

“I can remember, me and my girlfriend were on holidays, and we thought I was going to have to go overseas to keep playing at that point, which was pretty wild.

“I didn't want to be forced to do that. If I was to go, I wanted it to be on my own terms, so I'm glad that the Roosters gave me another opportunity and I’m just absolutely loving playing football again.”

Watson had also been resigned to having to head to Super League after his four-year stint at Newcastle finished in 2021.

Having left the Roosters for the Knights in a bid to secure the five-eighth role, he found himself on the bench or covering for injuries each week.

Watson wants long-term stint at six

“I was playing him in multiple positions but because he is such a quality player someone said, ‘okay, we will play you in this position’, so he went to stand in a position,” Robinson said of Watson’s 2018 move to Newcastle.

“That’s appealing, it’s more money and it is a starting role, so everyone wants that. Then when that didn’t work out. he was about to go to England. He was five minutes away from going to England before he came back to us.

“We had some really good chats, and I needed someone like Connor, his person and his utility and all of that.

“I’ve loved watching someone work out that their biggest strength is themselves and their multiple positions. The way that they play the game is the most important thing, not the position that they stand in.

“It’s such a great moment for Connor to play next Wednesday.”

Yet Origin was the furthest thing from Watson’s mind when he and Crichton watched from sideline in the opening round at Allegiant Stadium before starting their season in NSW Cup.

Robinson had decided to remain loyal to the players who finished last season for the Roosters and after 12-months on the sideline, Watson had to fight his way back into the team.

However, his injury enabled Watson to spend more time with Cultural Choice Association, the charity he and his family established to help combat Indigenous youth suicide and provide better opportunities for young First Nations people.

“Doing that work actually helped me last year,” he said. “I was injured, and I was out, but there's people in the world with a lot worse things going on.

Connor's purpose

“There’s so much bad stuff that happens in the world, and bad things happening to people all the time, so that gave me perspective.

“I still was getting paid, the Roosters had great physios and surgeons to look after me, so in the scheme of things, when you look at everything else that's going on in the world, it was not too much.”

Watson was granted a scholarship through the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation to attend the Knox Grammar school and was selected in the NSW Schoolboys rugby union team alongside Crichton, who went to Scots College.

The pair have been close ever since and were reunited at the Roosters upon Watson's return in 2022.

Angus Crichton and Connor Watson previously represented NSW together in schoolboy rugby union.
Angus Crichton and Connor Watson previously represented NSW together in schoolboy rugby union. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

After starting the season together in the NSW Cup, the pair will now play alongside each other for NSW in Origin II at the MCG.

“It's been so cool. We’re very, very fortunate to be here," Watson said. 

“Even though I was not playing first grade, and I was still gutted about that – I would have loved to play in Vegas – I’ve been around the game long enough to know that things just move so quickly.

“I was in a wheelchair for about six weeks with, with the patella tendon, so if you told me that I’d be here a year later I would have been very surprised. It’s just funny how things work out and now we’re playing Origin together."

Crichton said he had witnessed the hard work Watson had put in to get his NRL career back on track and Blues selection was a deserved reward.

"I'm proud of him and I'm quite excited to watch him go," Crichton said.

“He’s got such great energy, and that's what you need in in games. He can fill in wherever you want him to. He'll come on and provide a spark, and I'm sure when he gets on, the boys will feel him and get a lift.

“He’s got that X-factor, so I'm looking forward to playing alongside him in another arena."


Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.