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For & Against: Is one trial game enough?

While there have been a handful of trial games involving players who made less than a dozen appearances last season, the one and only round of genuine full-strength trial matches will take place this weekend.

Is one trial enough for teams to finalise their preparation ahead of the season proper?

That's the topic of this week's NRL.com debate.

Is one trial enough preparation for NRL teams?

For – Paul Zalunardo

A question likely to be asked once the dust settles after this weekend is: is one trial match enough? The short answer should be yes.

The shortened off-season that was forced upon the game by the COVID-19 disruptions of 2020 has left teams with one real pre-season hit out for top-line talent.

Perhaps this will prove a blessing from a most unlikely circumstance.

Trials are a necessary evil – coaches want to test combinations and build match fitness, but they don't want to show rivals too much and they definitely don't want injuries.

After months of fitness work, contact sessions and the implementation of playing patterns, one hit-out against NRL opposition should do the job.

Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Roosters

The pitfall of one trial is teams might not be operating at 100% in terms of cohesion in week one of the season, but the increased chance of having everyone available offsets that.

Just last weekend, Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire said his new-look side may need as long as a month of the season before everything is ticking along nicely.

As far as player development during the pre-season goes, the introduction of trials for players who played 12 matches or less last year has been of benefit.

Clubs have been able to protect their stars while still getting a look at both up-and-comers and experienced players who didn't play much in 2020 through either injury or indifferent form.

With all 16 clubs to take part in a full slate of trials this weekend, the action is sure to be fast and furious. Keeping your favourite players out of the casualty ward is more important than winning or losing. Save the win-at-all-costs mantra for March 11 when the season kicks off with the Storm meeting the Rabbitohs at AAMI Park.

If fans can see their favourite team with a full list of players to choose from for round one, the absence of a second – or third – trial match will be a distant memory.

Against – Martin Lenehan

When it comes to the ideal number of trial matches a team needs to gear up for the NRL season, coaches are caught between a rock and a hard place.

More trials means more chance of injuries. Fewer trials means less chance to work on combinations and get a look at fringe players.

A serious injury in pre-season is the stuff of nightmares, but as we see every year there are star players who go down at training in November, December and January, long before any trials are scheduled.

Cameron McInnes from the Dragons did his knee a fortnight ago at training and won't play a game in 2021. Last year the same fate befell Jack Bird at the Broncos. Tom Trbojevic even hurt himself in the shower this week.

Restricting clubs to just one trial game won't spare them the pain of long-term injuries to key players.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Eels

Let's focus on the positives of playing at least two full-blown trials with a majority of the expected round one team and a couple of youngsters hoping to break into the top 17.

First, it's an opportunity to brush out the cobwebs and get players up to speed for the rigours of a long season.

Why go into opening night in March under-prepared and out of sync when you can get all the issues sorted out in trial games?

After months of pre-season toil to get their fitness levels up, players are surely champing at the bit by February to play some footy and get a feel for how their team will function when the real stuff begins.

Secondly, more trials means more opportunity to take the game to the bush and give loyal fans in regional areas the chance to see their heroes in action.

This weekend's Charity Shield clash in Mudgee will draw a massive crowd and give the local economy a huge boost. Same goes for Albury and Lismore, where trials will also be played on Saturday.

There will be a touch of nostalgia when the Raiders return to their original home ground Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan to play the Roosters, and Dolphin Stadium in Redcliffe will be rocking for the Broncos-Cowboys trial.

The promise of seeing a host of top-line stars on show will ensure big crowds and a great atmosphere at all these games and coaches will get the perfect opportunity to fine-tune things with the season opener just a fortnight away.

If the footy gods are smiling there'll be no serious injuries and teams can set sail for round one with a healthy roster and clearer picture of which combinations can deliver them the ultimate prize come October.

Is one full-scale trial enough for clubs?

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.