Cleary reveals plan for key hooker role

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has ordered hooker Sione Katoa to transform himself into an 80-minute hooker if he wants to retain his No.9 jumper this NRL season.

The dummy-half role is arguably the most contentious starting position for Cleary in a side, widely expected to challenge in 2019 for the title.

Katoa played the majority of the minutes under Anthony Griffin, and caretaker Cameron Ciraldo, after last year's retirement of Peter Wallace.

But it was a responsibility the 24-year-old shared with highly rated talent Wayde Egan and the more-versatile Tyrone May off the bench.

"Towards the end of the year, I reflected on it and realised how awesome an opportunity it was," Katoa told AAP.

Now the position might be a one-man job.

Like many of his teammates in the squad, Katoa made his first-grade debut during Cleary's first tenure and hoped to benefit from their reunion.

The local product played one game under Cleary three years ago but had to wait until early 2017 to feature again, primarily in a bench role.

And he was suddenly thrust into the run-on side after Wallace's retirement.

"It came so quickly. The year before, I was just an impact player, trying to spark things up when I came on and running all the time," Katoa said.

"Now it's all about working myself into the game, controlling my forwards more."

The message was made clear to Katoa when he sat down for individual meetings with Cleary on his controversial return to the club over the summer.

The Tongan international has welcomed the challenge, and has begun by dropping two kilograms from his playing weight to try to improve his fitness.

"Ivan and I had our one-on-one talks and the main things from him was he just wanted me to be ready for that 80-minute hooker role," Katoa said.

"Last year, I played around 50 minutes. I had a couple of 80-minute games, but it's about solidifying that and then backing it up the next week.

"The other part was learning how not to overplay my hand, letting the game flow and then starting to do my thing."