After the magical spectacle of the All Stars it's down to business for all 16 clubs this weekend with a full round of trial matches.
A number of clubs will roll out near full strength sides as they look to fine tune combinations ahead of the opening round of the new season on March 10.
What Your Team Needs From The Trials
A halves partner for Adam Reynolds. The Broncos have a few options at their disposal to partner the former Rabbitohs premiership-winner but their trial games against the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium and Cowboys in Mackay should help Kevin Walters find an answer. Ezra Mam starred in a trial match against Wynnum Manly last week while Walters' son Billy also put his hand up to join the likes of Albert Kelly and Tyson Gamble as suitable five-eighth options.
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A spine to settle on. Ricky Stuart has options with his backline but a question mark lingers over who will play fullback with Xavier Savage pushing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad for the No.1 jersey. Savage will get a first crack against the Roosters on Friday night with Nicoll-Klokstad named on the bench. First-choice halves Jack Wighton and Jamal Fogarty were left out of the squad.
Continuity. With almost half the side fresh onto the scene at Belmore the two trial matches ahead will be crucial for Trent Barrett and his men to find their combinations. It may not happen in the first trial against Newcastle this weekend with the likes of Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr sitting out but the club will want a good hit-out before their final run against the Sharks on February 28.
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Forward pack settled on. The Sharks will have a new halves pairing but the engine room will play a huge key on how much time new recruit Nicho Hynes and likely partner Braydon Trindall have to use. Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon will need to make a call on where Cameron McInnes fits into the side with Dale Finucane an option at lock and Blayke Brailey at hooker. The dilemma is a good headache to have while all eyes will be on captain Wade Graham and his return from concussion after Andrew Fifita's successful comeback in the All Stars clash last week.
Confident performances from the spine. With a new-look halves pairing and Jayden Campbell's second season in the competition, Titans coach Justin Holbrook will want his key men to show a combination of patience and skill ahead of round one. Erin Clark's opportunity at hooker will mean the Titans have one of the most inexperienced spines in the competition compared to the same time last pre-season.
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An injury-free trial run. We often see some injuries come out of the trials and the Sea Eagles could ill-afford to lose any key men after their impressive 2021 campaign. It was almost exactly 12 months ago that star fullback Tom Trbojevic picked up a hamstring injury that threatened to derail their season. Despite losing Curtis Sironen (St Helens), Moses Suli (Dragons), Jack Gosiewski (Dragons) and Cade Cust (Wigan) last year, Des Hasler's side are well-equipped to handle their departures.
A round one line-up. The suspensions of representative stars Cameron Munster, Harry Grant and Brandon Smith have thrown a spanner in the works for Craig Bellamy with the club's impressive record in season openers now under threat when they take on a near full-strength Wests Tigers. Bellamy will turn to Xavier Coates to fill the void left by Josh Addo-Carr but will otherwise be chasing replacements in the trial for the suspended trio and utility forward Chris Lewis.
An improved attack with Mitchell Pearce gone. Newcastle have copped a double blow with Pearce's departure and Jayden Brailey's achilles injury but two trial games against the Bulldogs and Storm will give Knights coach Adam O'Brien an indication of where his new-look spine is at for 2022. Adam Clune is shaping as the likely man to take Pearce's No.7 jersey alongside Jake Clifford and the pressure will immediately be on after Newcastle recorded the second-worst attack behind Canterbury last season.
Signs big George is on track. Having taken a punt on resurrecting Rabbitohs premiership player George Burgess' NRL career the Dragons need to get some good minutes into the 29-year-old’s legs to see exactly where he’s at. They’ll also be looking to give Ben Hunt, Zac Lomax and Andrew McCullough decent game time after injuries cruelled their 2021 campaigns.
Fitting four into two. Clearing up the halves picture is a priority for coach Nathan Brown as he searches for the right No.6 to partner prodigal son Shaun Johnson. A strong All Stars showing enhanced Kodi Nikorima’s prospects while Chanel Harris-Tavita and Ash Taylor also have their hat in the ring.
Holmes feeling at home. Todd Payten will want to see the silky smooth Holmes hit the ground running in his new role at centre and the same goes for speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, who is set to take over at fullback. Plenty of young blood will be on show in the club's opening trial against Souths before a stronger side is likely to feature against the Broncos the following weekend.
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A safe return for injured stars. Connor Watson adds a whole new dimension to the Roosters’ attack and Trent Robinson will use the trials to get a handle on what role best suits the former Knight. Giving Luke Keary and Lindsay Collins a good hit-out in their return from long-term knee injuries is also a key focus as the Tricolours cross their fingers and toes and hope for a fairer run with injury in 2022.
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The next Reyno. Who plays halfback and how do they live up to the club favourite who is now a Bronco? Last year’s grand finalists have given Lachlan Ilias first crack against the Cowboys but expect to see Blake Taaffe in the No.7 alongside Cody Walker for next week's heavy duty hit-out against the Dragons in the Charity Shield.
Evaluating back-up playmakers. With Nathan Cleary still recovering from shoulder surgery the premiers can give valuable game time to Sean O’Sullivan and Kurt Falls in the halves. Given that Cleary will miss games due to Origin commitments and may also be rested at some point later in the year the trials are the ideal time to see who else can handle the playmaking duties.
Setting the tone for 2022. Brad Arthur’s men will look to use their two trials to fine tune their combinations, work out who replaces Maika Sivo (ACL) on the wing in the early rounds and build some momentum heading into the season. There's by taking down the Dragons and taking revenge on the Panthers for a narrow finals lost last September. It may only be a trial but getting one over the premiers would be sweet.
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Good starts from new men. Jackson Hastings and Oliver Gildart have travelled a long way to be part of the Tigers’ quest to break a decade-long finals drought and games against Manly and the Roosters provide the perfect initiation. Trials against two heavyweights will give Michael Maguire a fair idea of where his team is at and how they’ll handle life without Adam Doueihi for the first couple of months.
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