Storm's surprise candidate for Harris replacement
With three current Test players having left the Storm squad after their 2017 premiership win, there are places on offer for 2018 with assistant coach Jason Ryles nominating a surprise candidate to help out in Tohu Harris's vacant left edge role.
Asked how the team was planning to breach the defensive gulf left by the departures of Harris, prop Jordan McLean and half Cooper Cronk, Ryles said plenty of candidates are putting their hands up for spots.
That includes towering prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona spending time in that left-edge role along with the likes of the returning Ryan Hoffman and up-and-comer Joe Stimson.
"On that left edge there's a few players – Joe Stimson, Ryan Hoffman, Nelson has played a bit on the edge as well," Ryles told NRL.com shortly after the completion of a gruelling pre-season camp.
A total of 39 first grade, lower grade and development players sweated it out in Geelong for two weeks in what was both a bonding exercise and a chance for the 14 new faces on show to impress ahead of the trials.
"There's a number of players vying for that [left edge] position at the moment and again it will be down to trial form in the pre-season training as to who gets that," Ryles added.
The former Test and Origin prop was also confident middle defender McLean's absence would be well covered.
"We've signed big Sam Kasiano [from Ccanterbury] not so much to replace Jordan but he's certainly in the mix to be part of that 17 if his trial form permits," Ryles said.
"We've also got guys like Christian Welch who had the knee reco last year, he's come back in really good shape and he's training there as well. It's going to be really competitive for Jordan's position in the team."
If Welch isn't playing the Storm's first trial he won't be far off, Ryles added.
"To the naked eye if you watch him at training you'd think he's ready to go. It's just part of the process of coming back from such a big operation, he put a lot of work in in the gym when he was off and when he was unable to walk or run. He's up and about and training very well and will definitely throw his hat in the ring for a position in the 17," he said.
While the departure of veteran half Cronk leaves a massive hole in the sides attacking structure, Cronk's under-rated right-edge defence will also be sorely missed.
Despite expectation young star Brodie Croft will slot straight in for Cronk, Ryles said there remained genuine competition for that spot ahead of the trials. Ryley Jacks looks the next most likely candidate to challenge Croft while Jahrome Hughes, Billy Walter and Scott Drinkwater are the other contracted playmakers.
"[Cronk] is very meticulous in the way he organises the Storm and Queensland and Australia's attack and does a very good job of it but he's also a very good defensive player," Ryles said.
"Whoever steps into that role, whether it's Brodie or whoever gets the opportunity first after the pre-season and trials, it's going to be a huge role for those guys. We've got a few guys training there at the moment and I think it will come down to trial form and World Club Challenge form as to who gets the first opportunity there but it's certainly big shoes to fill."