The 2011 debut of Eels ace Jarryd Hayne and the return of the Broncos Justin Hodges after a 17-month absence are just two of the highlights from the seven trial matches to be played in NSW, NT and NZ this weekend, three weeks ahead of the NRL Telstra Premiership season kick-off.
Hayne, who has been battling a hamstring injury since the Four Nations in November, will start at fullback against the Benji Marshall-led Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday night; while Hodges will make his long-awaited comeback from a ruptued achilles tendon for the Broncos against the Cowboys in Alice Springs.
Reigning premiers the Dragons will play the only Friday night trial of the weekend with their last pre-season hit-out in Australia against the Bulldogs at WIN Stadium before leaving for the UK on Saturday for the World Club Challenge against Wigan on Sunday week.
All other trials will be played on Saturday night, with this weekend's games the last for some clubs before the season starts on March 11, while .
The much anticipated match-up between gun Queensland and Storm fullback and emerging NSW and Raiders star fullback Josh Dugan will have to wait with Dugan being rested for their trial in Bega and Slater still battling to recover from shoulder surgery. He is in doubt for the first round.
Titans coach John Cartwright has revealed his hand early, naming Indigenous All Star team-mates Scott Prince and Greg Bird in the halves to play the Rabbitohs at Coffs Harbour, with South Sydney fielding a strong team spearheaded by captain Roy Asotasi.
Warriors standoff James Maloney will make his first appearance of the year in their trial against Queensland Cup side the Burleigh Bears at Whangarei’s Toll Stadium. The club’s 2010 NRL Young Player of the Year was an original selection for last Saturday’s encounter with Parramatta in Rotorua only to be ruled out through illness.
The Knights have rested ace All Stars winger Akuila Uate for their clash with the Panthers at Port Macquarie, but Neville Costigan will have a run for his Newcastle club.
Leading up to the weekend trial matches, NRL players have been busy off the field over the past two weeks with Community Carnival activites across Australia and New Zealand.
On Wednesday alone, the Knights, Panthers, Raiders, Storm, and West Tigers visited more than 17,000 school children in skills clinics and assemblies, where they encouraged students to "Dream, Believe, Achieve."
Last week, more than 280 NRL players visited over 50,000 students at schools and clinics.
Now in its 10th year, the 2011 Community Carnival will be the game’s biggest yet, with more than 500 NRL players and ARL Development officers visiting 70,000 children across 118 towns, from Adelaide and Tasmania to Longreach in Queensland.