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The pre-season is done and dusted heading into round one but each team still has a few things to work out before the start of the Telstra Premiership.

What worked well and what still needs work in the countdown to the season opener next week?

The reporters who cover the eight official trials over the weekend have their say.

Raiders v Roosters

Troy Whittaker

What worked well

Starting in the left second-row position usually occupied by the sidelined Boyd Cordner, Angus Crichton appears set for a bumper season as he maintained his strong State of Origin form. Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson didn’t miss a beat as he returned from a knee injury.

Match Highlights: Raiders v Roosters

What needs work

Raiders prop Corey Horsburgh must fine-tune his aggression. The Roosters were largely outgunned through the middle by Canberra when both teams were at full-strength in the first half.

Storm v Knights

Jonathan Healy

What worked well

The Storm may have a ready-made replacement for winger Suliasi Vunivalu, with Melbourne-born rookie Dean Ieremia firming for a round one starting berth with an impressive showing, while the Knights will be buoyed by the form of towering English back Dominic Young who also hit the scoresheet in Albury.

Match Highlights: Storm v Knights

What needs work

Harry Grant's untimely knee injury means Brandon Smith is likely to be the sole hooker in Craig Bellamy's side for round one and the Kiwi may be required to play the full 80 minutes, while the Knights still lack creativity when attacking with the talented Kayln Ponga still sidelined with a shoulder issue.

Titans v Warriors

Margie McDonald

What worked well

The Titans used no less than nine players in the centres in 2020, with the mainstay being Brian Kelly. Signing Patrick Herbert to patrol that right side is going to produce points and potentially a great combination with David Fifita.

It also stops that merry-go-round in the back five which only disrupts your attack. Herbert came close to scoring on three occasions in Lismore. And he's already a rep player after being named in the Maori All Stars.

Match Highlights: Titans v Warriors

What needs work

Coach Nathan Brown called it early - a regular, steady No.9. We've seen in the past how teams like the Cowboys (after Aaron Payne), Sea Eagles (after Matt Ballin), Bulldogs (after Mick Ennis) just to name a few, struggled without that consistent, controlling hand at hooker.

In the Lismore trial, after Wayde Egan went down injured (and he had replaced the injured Karl Lawton) two back-rowers had to slip in and share the load. If Chanel Harris-Tevita and Kodi Nikorima are going to fire this year then Brown needs to sort out his hooker. 

Sharks v Bulldogs

Brad Walter

What worked well

Matt Moylan’s switch to five-eighth proved a success as he had a hand in both of Cronulla’s tries, while Canterbury prop Ofahiki Ogden threw down a challenge to Dylan Napa and Luke Thompson for a starting front-row berth.

Match Highlights: Sharks v Bulldogs

What needs work

Canterbury’s new backline combinations are going to take to develop, while the Sharks ball need to improve their ball control as they completed just 23 of their 37 sets of possession in the trial. 

Dragons v Rabbitohs

Chris Kennedy

What worked well

For Souths, Latrell Mitchell's ball-playing was great and the forwards picked up where they left off in 2020. Cody Walker seemed to be popping up on both sides to great effect. For the Dragons, Zac Lomax looked strong on the right edge while the kicking game when in good field position was promising.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Rabbitohs

What needs work

The edge defence should be sounding alarm bells for St George Illawarra, they were pulled apart with ease. Their middle defence wasn’t a lot better and the experiment of Josh Kerr on an edge didn’t appear to work. For South Sydney, there was not a lot to worry about. They finished 2020 great and then scored 50 points in their only trial for 2021. They just need to keep the ball rolling.

Yeo backs NRL rule changes

Panthers v Eels

Alicia Newton

What worked well

The Panthers’ left-edge attack showed they’ll be hard to stop again in 2021 after putting Parramatta’s much-highlighted right edge defence of Dylan Brown, Waqa Blake and Blake Ferguson under pressure throughout the contest. For Parramatta, Tom Opacic showed he's capable of playing plenty of first grade this year.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Eels

What needs work

The Eels attack didn't have a lot of energy as a result of tiredness from the new rules. Adapting to them will be important. As for Penrith, getting the right mix with their new-look bench will be something to watch in the early rounds.

Broncos v Cowboys

Todd Balym

What worked well

The second phase play offered by Frank Molo’s late offload looks set to add another dimension to the Cowboys attack with the young front-rower on the verge of a breakout season while the return from injury of Broncos hooker Jake Turpin gives Brisbane sharp service and strong running from dummy half.

Match Highlights: Broncos v Cowboys

What needs work

Brisbane needs to find the resilience and composure as a team to withstand momentum swings in a game so that one try doesn’t turn into two or three in quick succession. The Cowboys still haven’t settled on their starting side and a big consideration will need to be their defence given their issues on both sides against the Broncos in conceding three first-half tries. 

Tigers v Sea Eagles

Troy Whittaker

What worked well

Everything went to script for the Tigers as recruits Daine Laurie and James Roberts added another dimension in attack. Despite the scoreline, Manly’s Josh Schuster and Morgan Harper performed well while new prop Josh Aloiai ripped in.

Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles

What needs work

It’s hard to pinpoint something going wrong for the Tigers - their challenge will be transferring this form into round one. Conversely, Manly’s edges were torn apart but they didn’t play seven first-graders, so they’ll be hoping the result doesn’t much mean.


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

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