The Sharks, a side renowned for their physicality and aggression in the middle of the park, have already lost inspirational skipper Paul Gallen to retirement while representative prop Matt Prior joined Leeds over the summer.
Andrew Fifita, the powerhouse prop who will take on extra responsibility up front for Cronulla this year, has also been limited with his preparations after undergoing a clean out of his knee before Christmas.
Hamlin-Uele played 21 games last year for the Sharks and showed tremendous footwork for a big man when injected off the bench. His club form was recognised by New Zealand coach Michael Maguire who handed him his first Test cap against Australia.
When told he looked and moved like Fifita, Hamlin-Uele quipped to the Herald last year: “I get that a bit, but I’d rather look like someone else.”
Morris said the club still had two spots to fill in their 30-man roster – 29 players need to be signed by round one, and all 30 finalised by June 30 – and one “if not the final two spots will be for middle forwards”.
The fact Aaron Woods and Fifita can play big minutes was one blessing, said Morris. Royce Hunt, who signed from Canberra during the summer, was another prop in contention, said Morris.
Toby Rudolf is another in the front-row mix while Billy Magoulias and Jack Williams are expected to slug it out for Gallen’s vacated No.13 jersey.
As Morris sweats on the fitness of Hamlin-Uele and Fifita in the countdown to the Souths opener, it’s a case of who to leave out with his backline.
Jesse Ramien, who is tipped to be rushed straight back into club action at the Nines in Perth, will try to reclaim his centre spot with Bronson Xerri, Josh Dugan and Josh Morris all contenders for the other vacated role.
Sharks officials have been working behind the scenes on moving a player on before June 30 to become cap compliant. Matt Moylan twice met with Wests Tigers officials but could not reach a deal while whispers about the future of Josh Dugan, who is on more than $800,000 a season and contracted until the end of 2021, started before last year’s finals.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.