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What your team needs from the trials

With the first NRL action of the 2020 pre-season now less than a month away, NRL.com has taken a look at the big question to be answered for all 16 clubs through the trials.

Brisbane Broncos: Can Brodie Croft fix the playmaking?

Despite a few late-season wins edging Brisbane into the finals, 2019 was a disappointment with the main issue being the cohesion of the key playmakers. Anthony Milford had a few halves partners before eventually replacing Darius Boyd at fullback while hooker Jake Turpin emerged as a player of the future.

Former Storm halfback Brodie Croft is the big off-season signing while all indications are Jamayne Isaako will replace Boyd at fullback while Turpin pressures Andrew McCullough for the No.9 jersey.

Anthony Seibold can't afford to waste the trials as he looks to bed down that new combination; Croft never really cemented his spot at the Storm so will be under pressure from day one as the marquee man at the perennially successful Broncos.

Bonus question: Can Turpin displace McCullough in the starting side?

Broncos' top five tries of 2019

Canberra Raiders: Can George Williams slot in seamlessly?

One of the biggest surprise packets of 2019, the Raiders surged from 10th the year before to a grand final berth. Both their performances and team selections were incredibly consistent through 2019, and they'll now be replacing halfback Aidan Sezer with England international George Williams.

It's a long time since a Super League player headed down under and succeeded in a position outside of the forward pack and the 25-year-old will be asked to do so in one of the most important positions on the field in a team that is otherwise largely settled with few obvious weaknesses.

Bonus question: Will Curtis Scott push Joey Leilua out of the starting side?

Canterbury Bulldogs: How do you replace Kieran Foran?

After sitting at the bottom of the ladder for the first two thirds of 2019 the Dogs started to string some positive performances together to finish 12th – but a similar thing happened the year before and proved to be a false dawn.

If the Bulldogs want to carry any of that momentum forward they'll have to figure out how to do it without Kieran Foran, who was a key man as they won three of their last four games of 2019.

Lachlan Lewis continues to evolve but whether his role is as the controlling seven or supporting six is yet to become clear, while inexperienced Fiji international Brandon Wakeham has serious claims to a starting spot ahead of Jack Cogger. Whatever the combination ends up being, they need to settle on it quickly and start to polish because they can't afford another slow start.

Bonus question: What role does ex-Panthers hooker Sione Katoa play given Jeremy Marshall-King's development at dummy-half?

Cronulla Sharks: What happens when all your wingers are centres?

The Sharks were pretty good in 2019 and it was only some goal-kicking wobbles that stopped them finished in the top four, even though they never seemed to reach their potential as the likes of Matt Moylan and Shaun Johnson ran hot and cold through form and injury.

The return of Jesse Ramien after a season at Newcastle means he and Bronson Xerri could potentially displace a pair of veteran Joshes, in Dugan and Morris. Whether that pair are content to go through the season on the wing, and whether that is even the best thing for the team given the emergence of young star Ronaldo Mulitalo, is a vexing question for coach John Morris that has the potential to have a big impact on team cohesion both on and off the field.

Bonus question: Can Jack Williams, Billy Magoulias and co effectively fill the Paul Gallen-sized hole in the forward pack?

Best finishes of 2019: Sharks stop Storm surge

Gold Coast Titans: Where does Ryan James play?

It's no secret 2019 was an unmitigated disaster for the Gold Coast club, finishing with the wooden spoon and parting ways with their coach.

They badly missed the inspirational leadership of James, who was massive in their first win of the season in round five but but copped a season-ending injury the following week, with the club winning just a further two games all year.

He started last year on an edge but is at his best when he can lead through the middle. Coming off a knee reconstruction, the extra mobility required of an edge forward won't be his best fit but the club is also very heavy on middles (assuming Jai Arrow does not leave early) whilst being short on edge partners for Kevin Proctor. He had returned from edge to middle early last year before the injury.

Bonus question: Where does Tyrone Peachey play? Getting the best out of the centre/back-rower/five-eighth/hooker and ex-Origin utility will be an important part of climbing from the bottom of the ladder for new coach Justin Holbrook.

Manly Sea Eagles: How to solve the hooker conundrum?

Manly were one of the big improvers in 2019 as the return of wily coach Des Hasler managed to get a bare-bones roster with a handful of stars back into the finals.

But no sooner was top-line hooker Api Koroisau allowed to return to Penrith, first-choice rake Manase Fainu found himself first stood down then sidelined with a potentially serious shoulder complication.

At time of writing, Kiwi No.9 Danny Levi is likely (though not yet confirmed) to shift to the northern beaches; however Levi played few NRL games over 40 minutes and none over 65 minutes last year. Can he handle a step up to 80, does one of Cade Cust or Lachie Croker deputise, and will Zach Dockar-Clay be promoted to top 30?

Bonus question: Is Dylan Walker a five-eighth now? He finally started to look at home in the role last season but with centre depth an issue if there are injuries and two other competent halves on the books there are options for Hasler.

Sea Eagles' top 5 tries of 2019

Melbourne Storm: Is Jahrome Hughes the answer at halfback?

While the Storm looked invincible at times in their surge to the 2019 minor premiership, it's hard to argue the Raiders-Roosters grand final did not feature the two best teams of the season (or at least of the finals).

With only minor roster tweaks this season, including Brodie Croft replaced by returning half Ryley Jacks, don't expect big changes to Melbourne's style or output. Hughes has been asked to take over from Croft late-season two years running and should get first crack at the No.7 jersey in 2020.

But with Jacks the more genuine playmaker and Cooper Johns – son of Knights legend Matthew – approaching first-grade readiness, Hughes faces stiff competition. What Melbourne really can't afford is another late-season revamp of their playmaking combinations so getting this right early will be crucial.

Bonus question: what does the three-quarter line look like? With Curtis Scott and Will Chambers gone, Justin Olam is one centre, Marion Seve could be another but hasn't yet cemented a spot. Meanwhile one or both wingers will be leaving at the end of the year so 2020 could see plenty of fresh blood in the outside backs.

Newcastle Knights: Who partners Mitchell Pearce?

The Knights were all over the place in 2019, with an impressive mid-season winning run overshadowed by early and late losing streaks and a bit of a revolving door policy in the halves.

There is arguably no club for whom the trials are more important given new coach Adam O'Brien has so many unanswered questions but which of Kurt Mann, Mason Lino, Connor Watson or Phoenix Crossland starts the season in No.6 is arguably the most important.

Watson has been spending time training at lock and he and Mann can cover most spots on the field; Lino is a half who hasn't quite grabbed his chances while Crossland is the potential future star coming off an injury-affected off-season. The answer to this question has plenty of flow-on effects for the rest of the team, including who supports Jayden Brailey at hooker.

Bonus question: Who are the centres? Hymel Hunt and Bradman Best appear to be the strongest pairing but Mann, Tautau Moga, Gehamat Shibasaki, Enari Tuala and Sione Mata'utia present a plethora of options.

Brailey to take pressure off Pearce

New Zealand Warriors: How to involve Chanel Harris-Tavita?

After scraping into the finals a season earlier, 2019 was a big comedown for Steve Kearney's men, who struggled for form and continuity and never really got going.

Replacing veteran Kiwi rake Issac Luke with Panthers youngster Wayde Egan was the notable roster movement but the bigger question is where to play Kodi Nikorima and how to get young gun Harris Tavita involved.

It looks like CHT will have to bide his time behind Nikorima and Blake Green but with Nikorima's utility value and the fact he arguably a better No.9 than he is a half, there is a bold call awaiting Kearney.

Is he prepared to shift last year's big mid-season recruit from his preferred position to give the young tyro a run, even if it means Nikorima spending plenty of time on the pine, if it's for the good of the team? Harris-Tavita ought to be in first grade but has questionable value as a bench utility.

Bonus question: Who is the hooker for the post-Luke era? This one will be admittedly nigh impossible to solve in the trials given injuries to Jazz Tevaga and Karl Lawton, while Nat Roache is out til mid-season, leaving Egan as the likely No.9 for now.

North Queensland Cowboys: Clifford or Drinkwater?

The Cowboys struggled badly for impact in 2019 and never really threatened to make the finals, with a lack of spark from the backfield and a lack of playmaking cohesion making points hard to come by.

Former Kangaroos star Val Holmes will be asked to make an immediate impact at fullback but the big questions surround who joins he and Michael Morgan in the spine.

Last year's recruit Scott Drinkwater has plenty of halves experience while Jake Clifford looks like the club's future. Whichever player misses out at the start of the year will almost certainly be biding his time in the Intrust Super Cup.

Bonus question: Jake Granville or Reece Robson? Premiership hooker Granville has lost impact in recent seasons but whether Green is prepared to hand the reins to former Junior Kangaroo Robson to start the year could have a big say in how the team goes.

All of Valentine Holmes' tries from 2018

Parramatta Eels: How best to use Ryan Matterson?

The Eels turned it all around in 2019, bouncing back from a wooden spoon to rediscover their mojo in the back of smart recruiting, good coaching and an amazing season from halfback Mitch Moses.

The Eels boast arguably the most settled roster heading into round one, with the only real selection issues lying around which forwards play where.

State of Origin squad member and Eels junior Ryan Matterson returns home to replace Manu Ma'u and looks destined to slot into Ma'u's right edge role, with Shaun Lane and Dylan Brown combining well on the left in 2019.

Matterson can also play lock or five-eighth and is as at home making 50 tackles and 15 carries as he is slipping deft passes and short kicks to attack at the line. If Matterson does play edge then the question is whether Brad Arthur wants him to simply replace battering ram Ma'u or evolve a more Wade Graham-style ball-playing role.

Bonus question: Which props play where? The addition of former Blues enforcer Reagan Campbell-Gillard means Arthur is spoiled for choice when it comes to the engine room. Kane Evans came good last year, Oregon Kaufusi is a star on the rise and Peni Terepo is the club's longest-serving current player. A couple of good players are going to be disappointed.

Penrith Panthers: How to use Kurt Capewell?

Despite a disappointing 2019 and a very young roster with a number of changes, Penrith's 17 for round one looks fairly straightforward.

Arguably the biggest question is how former Sharks utility Capewell fits into a stacked back row. He and Isaah Yeo are each capable of playing lock, edge or centre while Liam Martin can also play edge or middle and James Fisher-Harris could be a lock or a prop.

Given Yeo and Viliame Kikau's standing at the club and Capewell's ability to cover the outside backs, he may be best used off the interchange.

Bonus question: Can Josh Mansour rediscover his mojo? Barely two years ago Mansour was close to the best winger in the league but some horror injuries have taken their toll. With Brian To'o now ensconced in first grade and some other young guns on the rise, Mansour needs to hit the ground running.

Panthers ramp up preparations for 2020

South Sydney Rabbitohs: Of course it's Latrell Mitchell

The biggest story of the NRL off-season is the biggest question for Souths coach Wayne Bennett. Mitchell told NRL.com shortly before his Roosters departure he found playing centre a chore and with a settled three-quarter line at Souths, fullback looks the most obvious fit.

But Mitchell's fitness and positional play will need to be top-notch; he struggled in the position in his debut 2016 season as a teenager and with Adam Doueihi and Alex Johnston each still at the club (for now), there are options if Mitchell takes a while to find his feet.

Bonus question: How to replace Sam Burgess and John Sutton? Two of the most important Rabbitohs of the past 10 years were the club's two starting back-rowers last year, and they leave a yawning gap. Ethan Lowe and Jaydn Su'A will need to step up but with enormous shoes to fill, it may be more than a two-man job.

St George Illawarra Dragons: Who plays fullback?

Last year couldn't have gone much worse for the Red V, with both coach and players under plenty of pressure to start 2020 and no shortage of roster tweaks and positional question marks.

Paul McGregor appears to have decided speedster Matt Dufty is not his man in the No.1 jersey at this stage, with the much bigger Zac Lomax likely to make the switch from centre. Another diminutive speedster in Tristan Sailor is also in the frame.

In such a key position and coming off such a bad season, the Dragons need to settle on their best man at the back early.

Bonus question: Which wingers to pick? Mikaela Ravalawa appears to have dropped down the pecking order. Young fullback Sailor is too good not to be in the team but probably too small to be a long-term winger. No such problems for towering youngster Jason Saab, who could be a massive threat in the air. The more experienced Jordan Pereira is likely to nab one spot.

Best finishes of 2019: Dragons survive Sea Eagles

Sydney Roosters: How do you replace Latrell Mitchell?

The Roosters will need to again re-invent the wheel if they want to stay ahead of the game and target a historic three-peat, and they'll have to do it without 2019's top point-scorer.

The enigmatic Mitchell is a generational talent and while be may not be the busiest general-play ball-runner, his impact in opposition red-zones was a huge part of why the Roosters seemingly never failed to take advantage of attacking chances.

Youngster Billy Smith may come in as a straight swap but that attacking input will need to be shared among a few players, including remaining centre Joey Manu. An all-veteran edge pairing of Brett Morris and Ryan Hall also has appeal, while Kyle Flanagan will likely take over goal-kicking duties with support from Siosiua Taukeiaho.

Bonus question: How long can Jake Friend keep Sam Verrills out of the starting side?

The best of Latrell Mitchell's time at the Roosters

Wests Tigers: How to solve the dummy-half problem

After another season of not quite making the finals, Wests Tigers go into 2020 with a big question mark over how to best replace retired veteran Robbie Farah in the No.9 jersey.

A long-term injury to likely heir apparent Jacob Liddle late last year was a huge blow to both club and player. Josh Reynolds has the ability to attack there but whether he is up to defending there for long periods is another matter, while his immediate playing future is also under a cloud as he defends a domestic violence charge.

Skipper Moses Mbye played fullback and centre last season but is arguably just as adept at five-eighth or hooker, with the likes of Corey Thompson and Paul Momirovski able to fill the breach is Mbye is moved from the backs. Young Queenslander Jake Simpkin could be the answer but would have to be promoted to a top-30 deal.

Bonus question: Can Luciano Leilua reach his potential? The big ex-Dragon should be a certain starter but faces coming off the bench behind the likes of Luke Garner and Michael Chee Kam unless he can prove his fitness and commitment are up to Michael Maguire's standards through the trials.