The trials and tribulations of the final hit-outs
of all 16 NRL teams last weekend.
1. Broncos, Dragons must find resolve
Trial matches with sides close to full strength are more often than not stop-start affairs as players who haven't touched a Steeden in months brush up on their skills, practice new structures and game-plans and work on combinations with new teammates. They should not be about finding the inner drive to make a tough tackle when it's needed. The Dragons gave up 32 points before staging a mini-fightback against the Rabbitohs while the Broncos could muster just the one try from a cross-field bomb as the Warriors posted 48. Knock-ons and forward passes can be forgiven, not turning up in defence is a major issue that will take longer than two weeks to rectify. Both coaches, Steve Price and Anthony Griffin, start 2014 with critical eyes zeroed in on their teams and fans will want to see a team that is at least competitive when Round 1 gets underway. The move of Corey Parker into the Broncos' No.10 jersey may seem incidental but the psychological impact of asking the skipper to play prop may take longer to ascertain. Of course, if both teams win their opening three games of the season, everyone will quickly forget that trials ever took place.
2. Sharks wrong on Flanagan
Even allowing for the fact he was watching his son play in the curtain-raiser, Shane Flanagan showed poor judgment in attending in a corporate box, as did the Sharks for condoning this behaviour. Despite Flanagan's provisional ban Peter Sharp has made no secret of ongoing communication between the pair. Even if they are just shooting the breeze and not discussing tactics it's still not appropriate. With so much focus they need to appear to be beyond reproach. If that means they need the NRL to come down hard and say, 'You can't talk' then so be it. But you'd like to think they were smart enough to work that out for themselves in the first place.
3. Roosters, Rabbitohs haven't missed a beat
History has proven time and again that premierships are hard things to win; winning two in a row has proved impossible in the modern era. If any team seems well placed to give it a red-hot crack however it's the Sydney Roosters squad of 2014. They looked as slick in the World Club Challenge against Wigan as they did in closing out the Sea Eagles in the 2013 decider and unless injuries cruel their run, they appear to be the team to beat. There have been losses in Martin Kennedy and Luke O'Donnell but the continued emergence of Dylan Napa and Kane Evans, introduction of Remi Casty and one last year out of Sonny Bill Williams seems more than adequate cover. The speculation and subsequent announcement that this will be Sam Burgess's last season as a Rabbitoh for the forseeable future and injuries to first-choice halves Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary had disrupted South Sydney's preparations but they delivered a polished performance in a dominant Charity Shield win. The Burgess twins, George and Tom, took a power of stopping and Dylan Walker showed that he is more than a centre with fast feet. Could be another classic to kick-off season 2014 next Thursday.
4. Michael Morgan answers Cowboys prayers
New Cowboys coach Paul Green has shown he is not afraid to look outside the box even before he oversees his first NRL premiership game as a head coach. A season-ending knee injury to Lachlan Coote led to widespread speculation that youngsters Zac Santo, Javid Bowen, Curtis Rona and Matthew Wright were vying for the vacant fullback position but then Michael Morgan happened. Handed the No.1 jersey after a week of training at the back, Morgan was super impressive both defensively and in attack in the Cowboys' trial win over the Titans on Saturday and is odds-on to be named there for Round 1 against the Raiders. Powerfully-built with good speed and a passing game honed by a career spent in the halves until now, Morgan added a new layer of ball-playing to the Cowboys attack and was strong in his kick returns. Santo was also impressive in his 20 minutes against the Titans but Green's Midas touch has uncovered a new golden boy in Morgan.
5. Promising signs at Parra
Big, strong and fast with a touch of class. That seems to be the blue-and-gold-print to resurrect the ailing Parramatta Eels under Brad Arthur who backed up an encouraging performance at the Auckland Nines with a strong showing against last year's runners-up, Manly, at Brookvale on Saturday night. Fuifui Moimoi is charging into defenders like he is a young pup and not the oldest player in the competition while the additions of Corey Norman and Will Hopoate complement the pure power of Vai Toutai, Peni Terepo and Pauli Pauli, who looks set to live up to the hype generated through his time in the under-20s. Ricky Stuart was tempted to use Pauli on a number of occasions in 2013 but Arthur seems to have no such inclination to hold the towering front-rower back any longer than he needs. Given his time spent at the Storm and Sea Eagles it's perhaps no surprise that Arthur is a fan of a structured attack and his pairing of Luke Kelly and Corey Norman in the halves delivers greater stability than the off-the-cuff style of Chris Sandow. A top eight berth in 2014 may be a bridge too far but at least dedicated Eels fans can start the season confident in the belief that better days are ahead.