Omar Slaimankhel has emerged as a surprise contender to fill Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s vacated Sydney Roosters fullback spot, according to NRL club great Anthony Minichiello.
The son of Afghan refugees, Slaimankhel, 23, was rated as one of the game’s greatest young talents several seasons ago after scoring 47 tries in 51 National Youth Competition games for the Warriors.
However after just five NRL games for the New Zealand-based franchise in 2012, he signed a lucrative deal with Japanese rugby club Canon Eagles.
He returned to rugby league midway through this year with Roosters feeder side Wyong Roos and was named in the NSW Cup team of the season.
Centre Blake Ferguson has been viewed as the most probable successor to Tuivasa-Sheck in the Roosters’ custodian role for next season after the Kiwi international’s move to the Warriors.
However long-time Tricolours fullback Minichiello, who vacated the post at the end of 2014, said Slaimankhel was also a contender.
Minichiello, who is part of the Roosters’ coaching staff, helped mentor Tuivasa-Sheck in his successful move this year from wing to fullback.
“Blake Ferguson could really transition well into the position and there’s Omar Slaimankhel who played reserve grade for us really well this year,” Minichiello said.
“It all depends on who develops in the pre-season and shows the fitness and capability to do it.”
Slaimankhel was born in Pakistan and moved to New Zealand when he was two.
Despite winning three successive minor premierships, the Roosters failed to qualify for the grand final for the second year in a row.
Minichiello denied the Roosters had become NRL chokers.
“I think this year that first final (loss to Melbourne) hurt the boys a bit. We had a 12-game winning streak up until then and, as soon as you lose that first final, it makes things harder,” he said.
“We were a bit off that night and the boys are still disappointed in their performance; they knew that but there’s always another year.”