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Forward planning: Chee-Kam wants to exit centre stage

There's a logjam of back-row contenders and a vacancy in the centres at the Wests Tigers but Michael Chee-Kam is all about forward planning.

Esan Marsters's departure to the Cowboys has left a vacancy in the centres at the Wests Tigers which seems tailor-made for Chee-Kam, who has started in the backs for 13 of his 71 games for the club and often switched out wide mid-game when injury has struck.

He's been used off the bench in the majority of games, 41 times, and only started in the second row 17 times but now he is focused on securing a starting gig in the forwards next season.

"I guess the utility [label] just got put on me because I'm a bit faster as a back-rower, it just put me in that centre spot. I enjoy it though," he said of the thought of spending some time in the back line.

"This season [2020] I want to try and play second row.  I love second row and I want to make that my position.

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"There's a good opportunity there, we've signed a couple of back-rowers which is  a good challenge at the club now."

Luciano Leilua's arrival from the Dragons means he joins Josh Aloiai, Luke Garner, Chris Lawrence and Chee-Kam as the main contenders for the No.11 and No.12 jerseys.

Although Chee-Kam's 2019 was tarnished by a court appearance for assault after being charged with hitting a taxi driver which resulted in the 27-year-old receiving a two-year good behaviour bond and $2000 fine, the Wests Tigers re-signed him for another two years.

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"It was obviously a massive show of faith form the club and I was just really hoping to secure something for the future," Chee-Kam said.

"I just want to repay the club back for showing me the faith.

"I've been here for four years now, so I've been here for a long time and this feels like home to me.

"Everyone goes through things in life that challenge you and I guess that builds your character. I went through that and there's a lot of things I can improve on in life, especially off the field.

"It was out of character but it was a very good learning curve for me."

Among his six-try haul in 2019 were two memorable four-pointers in the dying stages of matches: a 78th-minute effort against the Broncos (round 5) in a 22-16 win, and a 75th-minute touchdown against South Sydney (round 15) in a 14-9 triumph.

Wests Tigers back-rower Michael Chee-Kam.
Wests Tigers back-rower Michael Chee-Kam. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"I think I was just lucky. I'm still pretty buzzed when I look back on those. The NRL put up a video last week and watched it again a couple of times. I still can't believe it," he said.

But any euphoria over scoring points was brought undone with the Sharks (25-8) knocking over the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval in round 25 to deny them a finals spot.

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Wests Tigers 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.

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