Saturday saw seven games of NRL trials on show and plenty of talking points to come out of it.
This was the last chance for youngsters to stake their claims for spots and new combinations to take shape before Round 1 finally kicks off in just under two weeks. The majority of clubs fielded near-full strength lineups, with key players banking much bigger minutes through fewer bench rotations as coaches begin to settle on the makeup of their teams.
If your side looked even remotely similar at 2PM and again at 9PM on Saturday night, do you even SuperCoach?!
Unfortunately, injuries to some key players reared their ugly head again and have forced some reasonable headaches for SuperCoaches and NRL clubs alike. Perhaps none more so than the cruel injury to gun rookie fullback Scott Drinkwater, who had all but sewn up his spot in Billy Slater’s famed #1 jersey for the Storm in a few weeks’ time.
I honestly can’t think of a more wide-open start to the NRL season both on the field and in this little fantasy game of ours. Let’s wrap up the week that was before we launch full-speed into the start of the year!
NZ Warriors 26 def. Wests Tigers 16
Warriors fans will be very happy with the way this game played out, while Tigers supporters will be anything but.
The combinations between Luke Brooks, Benji Marshall and substitute, Josh Reynolds looks as clunky as ever, with Michael Maguire having plenty to think about with the season just around the corner and just how to fit them all in properly.
The Warriors looked downright slick at times here, and might not fall to pieces (more than usual) with the loss of Shaun Johnson like everyone thought.
Seven heaven: Adam Keighran (AK) got the jump on Chanel Harris-Tavita in the starting #7 jersey to partner Blake Green in the
Mid-price Warrior: Speaking of Papali’i, hasn’t he rocketed back into contention with a great showing in this game, splitting his time first on the right edge and then in the middle at lock. He was at his running and offloading best and looked very dangerous out there in big minutes. For sub-$500k, he looks a great value buy with the attacking ability and work rate on display. The big question is just where he fits into the bench rotation in terms of minutes. Even at around 60MPG, you would bank on him notching 60+PPG, with the potential for huge attacking stats in that time pushing him potentially into keeper status. It’s very early days and he had a quiet game only last week, but these are the sorts of players who can really kickstart your year if you get on them early.
The Fus: This one is a little from left field, but last year I highlighted David Fusitu’a as a rocks and diamonds player you can take on matchups. This year, I’d banked on him being completely irrelevant with the loss of Shaun Johnson from the side. But the big unit, who’s not renowned for his base prowess, looked very busy out there, mixing his two inevitable tries with a series of solid runs out of their own end and plenty of tackle busts. His new centre partner Solomone Kata even looked like he’s developed some semblance of a passing game in the off-season. He’s completely high-risk but in the middle of the year, if you need a Hail Mary
Burrific: Lachlan Burr was very solid in his time in the middle playing at lock (unfortunately warming the position for Adam Blair on his return). He threw a few nice offloads and made his tackles. If he can get anywhere close to 35MPG in the season proper, he’ll be a great early cash cow. At the moment, we’ll take whatever we can get…His performance here should see him suit up off the bench in Round 1.
The Roache is the word, coach: Nate Roache’s performance yesterday had plenty of SuperCoaches wishing like hell that Isaac Luke’s days at the Warriors were over because he provided a massive amount of spark in his time at dummy half and looks primed for some huge games if given a starting chance. Sadly, he’ll now likely spend most of the year as a bench utility with Luke re-signing to stay at the club. Whether you look at him as an option at $240k coming off the bench at CTW/HOK will depend on just how desperate you are for cheapies. So given the way this pre-season has gone, I still expect him to be in plenty of sides come Round 1. Luke’s comeback from injury could be slow which will open up his minutes early in the year, but he just screams trap to me right now.
MattoPOD: One of the few shining lights for the Wests Tigers was the performance of new recruit Ryan Matterson, who chimed in well on the right. He set up a try for Brooks with a great offload at the line and almost had a try of his own late in the game. He’s in the most congested position in SuperCoach right now though, and at $522k will be a huge POD to start the year. The combination with Esan Marsters could be a thing of beauty if it goes well, but on his team’s display yesterday, scoring chances coming their way courtesy of their halves will be few and far between.
Who is Luke Garner?: On the cheapie front, Luke Garner, who is probably just in that category as a $265k (2RF), started on the left edge for the Tigers and played plenty of minutes there, capping off a solid game with a try at the death. His spot in the side, at least starting, has plenty of question marks around it with Elijah Taylor being a late withdrawal for a minor pec injury yesterday. Chris Lawrence’s unfortunate broken jaw has opened the door for a spot though, and he did his claims no harm at all here. Fingers crossed that he holds onto the starting position and Maguire elects to rotate Taylor and Eisenhuth at lock. With PPM of 0.78, he’ll need to bank plenty of minutes to enter true cash cow territory though.
Where’s Nofo?: Finally, David Nofoaluma had a bit of a stinker out wide with his all-too-familiar defensive woes helping leak plenty of points. He and Marsters are sure to see plenty of
Check out Wenin’s Hooker preview in the first of the SIX IN SIX series here
Newcastle Knights 6 def. by Cronulla Sharks 30
It was only a trial…it was only a trial…it was only a trial. If you say it 3 times, the memory
Good to see the newcastle knights have improved this offseason…. pic.twitter.com/kZAHF5HqsG— Mark (@Alohaduz) March 2, 2019
What a disaster this was for the Knights, being completely towelled up during the all-important first half when the first-string sides were out there on their way to a 20-0 halftime deficit. The combination between Moylan, Johnson and Townsend looked great but it was Cronulla’s defensive starch that forced plenty of errors and allowed them to get out to that lead. Great performance by them.
Ponga-watch: It was considered average by his standards, but that’s just because they’re so damn high. He found it tough going in this one early, as did the rest of his spine partners who seemed to have no time to work towards anything meaningful. Ponga warmed up in the second half, laying on some nice attacking plays, but the game and plenty of first-string Sharks were gone by this point. He can’t be perfect every game, but his starting price definitely means he needs to be much closer to it than he was yesterday.
Fitzy-watch: The combination that lit up the SuperCoach world last week between Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Ponga didn’t reap the same rewards this week, and the big man got found out in defence a few times in a very quiet game. This is the risk with him, bigtime. At $576k in a stacked position, can you afford to carry many sub-50 point games from Fitzy as this one almost certainly was? If the attacking well dries up as it did here against one of the best defensive sides in the competition, you’ll be forced to.
Mighty Moylan: PODhunters everywhere rejoiced as fullback Matt Moylan chimed in handily in attack for the Sharks in playing the first half. Let’s not get too carried away here though. He shovelled a ball on to put Dugan through a gaping hole and put in a kick to the line that Connor Watson completely ballsed-up to gift them a try (although it didn’t quite look legitimate on the replay…) It wasn’t quite the attacking masterclass that screamed out ‘must-buy’, but it did highlight how dangerous this guy can be. The SJ/Moylan combination could turn out a lethal one if their first hitout together is anything to go by, and I can see at least a billion Try Assist/Try Contribution arguments starting up between owners of the two during the year…Good luck, SuperCoach Stats Guys!
Classic Fifi: Reminiscent of his premiership-winning try in the 2016 Grand Final, Fifita barged over defenders in the first half to plant the ball down and show he looks in a terrific mindset to start the year with a bang. Especially impressive that the effort for that try came towards the end of the half when most others his size would be running on empty. He’s got to be a lock based on this, especially if Gallen’s minutes (35 yesterday vs 40 for Fifita) continue to decline.
Cheap Sharks on Sale: SuperCoaches are banking on the likes of Bronson Xerri, Briton Nikora and even Kurt Capewell to get a run to start the year. Let’s start with some Xerri-pie, and while he started the game in the #18 jersey, he got an early run on with Josh Dugan coming off for an HIA after a nasty collision in the first half. His best chance at a run is likely to be in Sione Katoa’s right wing spot, and it seems like it’ll go down to the wire for who’ll get a nod here. Katoa scored a great try in the second half but picked up an ankle injury. Not sure how serious yet but it could be the opportunity Xerri needed. In the second row, Nikora and Capewell look likely to be the starting 11 and 12 for Round 1 with Jayson Bukuya coming off the bench (and Wade Graham still months away with his knee injury). Nikora got the points decision between the two here as he was very handy in defence and warmed into the game with some strong line running.
Sydney Roosters 20 def. by Manly Sea Eagles 38
Neither side will read much into the result, with the Roosters putting out a very inexperienced side as they returned from a successful World Club Challenge a few weeks ago and Manly doing much the same, particularly in the forwards. The Roosters were led around by star recruit Angus Crichton (seriously, how do they do it…) and showcased the strength of their depth, while for Manly, they’d just be happy to have gotten through this one unscathed on the injury front.
Same old Crichton: The sight of Crichton in full flight to score a runaway try was brilliant, steaming onto a short ball to charge straight through. The quality of ball he’s likely to get this year can’t be understated, but it’s not like he needs it to play his power running game. Good to see him get through a 50-minute stint in his return from shoulder surgery and owners can be more than happy.
Backline Eagles: Of most interest to SuperCoaches here would likely have been the performance of cheapie Reuben Garrick and midrange POD candidate Jorge Taufua. They were decent, with Garrick likely to lock down either a wing or centre spot depending on Hasler’s decision with Moses Suli, who had a very indifferent night. One other player might have just put their name forward for a Round 1 spot in the backline as well, and that was Tevita Funa. He’s a very strong ballrunner and could be an X-Factor out wide early on. A long shot, but the more cheapies we get, the better.
Penrith Panthers 0 def. by Parramatta Eels 20
Hmm. Interesting result. I had to do a double-take of both sides to make sure that Penrith hadn’t withdrawn half of the side named on Tuesday. You can add the highlights video of this one and the other Panther-related footage that surfaced during the week to the list of videos Gus Gould wants banned from the internet. Meanwhile, Google searches for ‘Grand Final Tickets 2019’ looks to have predictably spiked in Western Sydney overnight, and you can be sure it wasn’t Penrith supporters.
In the fast Lane: Last week, it was Lachlan Fitzgibbon and David Fifita. This week, Shaun Lane might just be one of the most traded-in forwards if his powerhouse display on the edge was anything to go by. Like Fitzgibbon last week, Lane set up a great try on the left edge, offloading in the line to Gutho to feed George Jennings for the try, before dotting down for a try of his own in the second half after Maloney had been binned (standard). His chances of all-important minutes early in the year might have improved with the news that Manu Ma’u unfortunately suffered a leg strain and came from the field in the second half. Early reports are that he’ll miss 2-3 weeks as a result. Lane has the motor to play big minutes and any opportunity for more will be huge for him. Whether Brad Arthur decides to name a utility (Will Smith) on the bench or not might just tip you one way or another. As it could with the likes of Nathan Brown and Daniel Alvaro. For Lane, though, his performance was strong enough to show that it’s likelier that minutes are taken from Niukore/Ma’u’s edge.
Brown shows Moses the way:Round 1 cheapie Dylan Brown showed some real class in this game, helping steer the Eels in attack and looking very dangerous running the ball. His halves partner Mitchell Moses was patchy with plenty of errors in him, so it’s good to see that Parra’s fortunes may not rest entirely in Moses’ risky hands. Good signs that this kid has the attacking game in him to be a genuine cash cow early on.
Cleary Combination:Nathan and Ivan Cleary began their father/son partnership on Saturday, with Nathan successfully returning from injury for a 40-minute stint in the first half. Nothing really got going for Penrith so there’s not much else to read into here, but good to see Cleary Jr. get through.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 36 def. St George/Illawarra Dragons 24
The Bunnies looked slick here and plenty most certainly did click for them. We were all reminded of exactly how dangerous Damien Cook and Cody Walker can be around the ruck area, with the two looking absolutely lethal at stages in this game. They really are the best side in the competition to watch when they’re on and it’s down to these two. The Dragons put up a decent showing but talk of them as a Top 4 team will have to be put on hold until Mary can work out just what the hell he is going to do with this spine.
Check out our SuperCoach preview of the St George-Illawarra Dragons here
Hat Trick Hero to Reserve Grade Zero?! Surely just mind games here. After bagging a hat-trick and impressing on the left wing for the Rabbitohs, everyone seemed to be breathing easy that at least one cheapie had nailed down a Round 1 spot. That was until Coach Wayne Bennett came out and claimed that Corey Allan was unlikely to make the first choice 17 to start the year as he’s there to be a fullback and is back in the pecking order there. Panic stations for SuperCoaches? Hopefully Wayne’s just using his big head to be a bit clever here, because Allan certainly didn’t put a step wrong. And wow, is Robert Jennings old wing spot likely to produce plenty of points this year if last night is anything to go by.
“I don’t see him getting a start in round one. It all depends on what Greg does, but right now I don’t see him getting a start”: Wayne Bennett on Charity Shield hat-trick hero Corey Allan.@nrlcomhttps://t.co/qc7unhv3gN pic.twitter.com/ezseS1Hb2X— Brad Walter (@BradWalterSport) March 2, 2019
Souths’ Second Row Shores Up: Cam Murray and Sam Burgess were great on Saturday night, putting in solid minutes and looking like these positions are going to pay off for both this season. Murray especially churned through plenty of work through the middle and nabbed a great try in the process, while new recruit Ethan Lowe played on the more-unfamiliar left edge in his time on the field which could dispel rumours he’s likely to chew into Surgess’s time out there if he makes the bench for Round 1.
Absolutely Cook-ed: His price might have scared many away (including myself) but there’s no denying that this man is the premier HOK in the game. And possibly by a fair margin. He looks an attacking threat every time he runs the ball and his work close to the opposition line is going to bank plenty of points, both NRL and SuperCoach, this year. The only worry is just what Wayne will do with Matt McIlwrick during the season, who spelled Cook after 60 minutes of game time on the weekend. Any loss in minutes will hurt at that price, and Wayne does like to do some weird stuff with the rotations of his bench. There’s no question Cook will get through a hell of a lot of work this year, particularly with Origin duties, and so you’re almost inclined to think a drop in minutes is inevitable as they manage his workload. That said, even at 65-70MPG as a worst-case scenario, it’s a tight battle with the likes of Hodgson/Smith and $150k against what Cook can do in that time. Owners will be reasonably happy with what they saw here nonetheless, with plenty to build on.
Trap Alert?: Jacob Host at $196k was always going to catch the eye after getting a run as the starting backrower, but his time in that position could be limited with the return of Korbin Sims from suspension slated for Round 3. Host got through 55 minutes in the Charity Shield and has seemingly done enough to get the nod for Round 1 with McGregor happy with his defensive effort. Such is the dire nature of cash cows to start the season off, that SuperCoaches might just need to take the risk that he can cling onto the spot on Sims’ return, or at least make some reasonable returns off the bench. He’s just screaming out Palavi 2.0 (or 375.0 if you count all the 3-Palavi’s from Surgebuster’s weekly teams article last season), but that’s just the pessimist in me. Blake Lawrie at $216k in FRF looks to also be the beneficiary of De Belin’s enforced time off, and churned through 50 minutes after Paul Vaughan went off for concussion. Another one that many will look at if named on the bench for Round 1 as expected, but minutes and job security on Sims’ return are the big concern here. Watch out.
Trap Alert 2?: For the Rabbitohs, Junior Tatola started at prop and worked through just under 45 minutes of game time. He’s a meat and potatoes type of footballer whose only real value will come from those minutes, although his pass to a rampaging Cam Murray to put him over the line was handy. With George Burgess set to return from suspension in Round 4, time is short for Tatola. Watch out again.
Loose Lomax: It wasn’t all bad for the youngster, but Zac Lomax had some tough moments out on the right for the Dragons, particularly in the first half. He and centre partner Euan Aitken were caught out in defence by the lethal Bunnies’ left side attack and the finishing of Allan, and he looked anything but safe under the high ball. He’ll still be there in some capacity for Round 1, though, and balanced out a tough night with a good try in the first half. His combination with Ravalawa on the wing when Aitken shifted sides was a little stronger. There’s still the possibility that Aitken could be the one to make way for the two youngsters Lomax and Rava to start the year, but this is likely more just a pipe dream for us SuperCoaches.
Dragons PODs on the Radar?: Tariq Sims and Tim Lafai looked very dangerous in this game and might have gotten the interest of those who love throwing caution to the wind. The Dragons looked most comfortable going down their side on Saturday, and Tariq Sims looked like the guy who was hitting 60+ regularly during the middle of last year with great ballrunning. The biggest issue with him is workrate, as without tries his scores can be mediocre at best. Lafai has all the makings of a SuperCoach gun except consistency and you can be sure he’ll rise well above and fall well below his current price of $420k at stages during the year. We all know how well St George generally start their year off, though, so I’d be interested to know if anyone is planning to take a punt on either of these guys.
North Queensland Cowboys 14 def. Melbourne Storm 6
It was a pretty scrappy game from both sides, who trotted out some strong lineups but the Cowboys warmed into the game the better of the two and closed it out for a nice win. All the talk for the northerners was the immensity of the forward pack, with McGuire making his first appearance for the year and for the Cowboys in the 13 jersey and Jason Taumalolo making a surprise move to the edge. The Storm were also running out a new-look spine, with Munster and Croft teaming up with Scott Drinkwater at the back for the first time, but a heartbreaking pec injury to Drinkwater that rules him out for 3-4 months has meant that it’ll be a more-familiar combination with Jahrome Hughes at fullback to start the year.
Unfortunate news with confirmation of a ruptured (completely torn) pec for Scott Drinkwater. Will require surgery, with a usual return to play in 10-14 weeks for NRL players. Animation below shows example of pec repair surgery, wish Drinkwater the best with his recovery pic.twitter.com/5KnsAttnT7— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) March 4, 2019
Naughty Nene means Bargain Bowen: Nene McDonald was sat out of this one for turning up late to training midweek, putting his expected wing spot for Round 1 in jeopardy given he has a total of zero games under his belt now. This opened the door for Javid Bowen to start again in his place, and he looked far more interested and involved than he has in years, which makes two good games in two from him in the trials. At $196k, Bowen may be a genuine option if given the nod to start the year, but job security is again a big issue. It’s a terrible look for a new recruit to be disciplined so early, and with the disastrous season of 2018 fresh in the mind of Paul Green, it wouldn’t surprise me to see McDonald plying away in QCup to start the year.
Closer to the Edge:Jason Taumalolo started on the right edge for the Cowboys for the first time since 2014, and took no time to warm into the role. He was always going to be dangerous running against smaller defenders out here and was his usual self, but importantly moved back to the middle of the field mid-game to play at lock when Gavin Cooper came onto the field. Assistant Coach Josh Hannay came out before the game and mentioned that this is likely going to be Lolo’s role to start the year, which is crucial. What Lolo may lose in base points not defending in the middle for the entire time, he should be able to make up in an increased ability to bust tackles, offload and score tries out wide. The talk out of Camp Cowboy is that this is all designed to fit McGuire in and give Lolo the same or even more minutes on the park. Absolute gold.
My concern is that if he spends 30-35 on the edge he needs a solid 35 in the middle to up his base. Otherwise if he doesn’t score you’re going to get plenty of 50ish scores— Wilfred (@CatfishSC) March 3, 2019
Welcome Back, Morgo: Without notching too many attacking stats in the process, Michael Morgan looked like he hadn’t missed a beat in his return from last year’s bicep injury. This is his side now, and the way he directed the team around with his kicking and passing game on the fringes made that clear. The combination he could yet develop with Taumalolo at second row has me comfortable I’ve made the right call backing him in to start the year.
Kareful with Kahu:A goalkicking fullback priced under $300k would normally be almost a must-buy, but while he was good at the back in this game and comfortable under the high ball, Kahu showed again he’s just not going to rack up enough big scores to be relevant in this game. He seems destined to play the Lachlan Coote link play style in the line which will likely net him some try contribution points, but the flair is just not there. Best look elsewhere.
Storm front: Dale Finucane was very handy in the starting lock position, and if you want to buy into a guy who gets through plenty of work in his time on the field, he’s a good bet. Joe Stimson found himself outside the 17 and likely out of SuperCoach relevance as a result, so of the midrange Storm forwards, Finucane’s the best of the bunch now. Fingers crossed he can hit the 55MPG mark which should see his price rise nicely early on.
Come in Kamikamica:A late knee injury that saw him come off was a tough pill to swallow for cheapie hunters. Tui Kamikamica had been one of the Storm’s best forwards over their two trial games and had seemingly sewn his spot up in the 17 for Round 1. He was again busy when he subbed on here. With plenty of minutes up for grabs in the Storm’s prop rotation, keep everything crossed that he pulls up okay.
Gold Coast Titans 22 def. by Brisbane Broncos 25
The Titans looked brilliant in the first half, running to an 18-6 halftime lead against a near-full strength Broncos side who were having their first real hitout of the year together and made plenty of errors. The Broncos came back with a flurry of tries in the second stanza to get the win and looked a dangerous attacking unit in the process with Milford still to return.
Trouble for Fifita: Starry-eyed pre-season owners of David Fifita had to rein themselves in on Saturday night. The young gun turned in a relatively poor performance while being completely outshone by veteran Alex Glenn on the other side of the field, who was admittedly the beneficiary of some more-than-questionable passes from Kodi Nikorima to stroll over for two of his three tries. It wasn’t the mistakes Fifita made that is the worry, as he’s entitled to do as a youngster, but the fact that the hold on the starting second row spot looks very shaky with TPJ to come back into the fold shortly and Seibold declaring Glenn the winner of the starting second row spot on this performance, as well as praising Su’A’s effort on the right edge to close out the game.
Classic Isaako: He’s been out of the selection frame due to the fact that CTW is the only position with a handful of cheapies and his high starting price, but Isaako showed glimpses last night that there would be no second-year syndrome for him in 2019. What a run that was to set up Richie Kennar’s match-winning try at the end. He and Esan Marsters could be great PODs if SuperCoaches are willing to sacrifice some more popular players in the second row or even halves to generate the cash. It’s a lot of cash to splash on a winger though. If only he was wearing a different number on his back…
ICYMI – This was Jamayne Isaako’s first touch at fullback last night.— Broncos Weekly (@broncosweekly) March 3, 2019
As they say, the rest is history. pic.twitter.com/LUDxe7nuoc
Pre drinksat Carty’s: Well, well. 40 tackles, 4 misses. That’s at least twelve 2018 games’ worth of work from Bryce Cartwright, who played handily in secondrow. Still likely to lose his spot to Ryan James and will battle it out with Keegan Hipgrave for the bench spot but he’s putting his hand up.
- Taylor/Roberts Partnership Firming: They combined well on Saturday night with some of their backline shifts looking very slick. The Titans lacked the polish to put away the Broncos as they had many chances to do, but signs were good for the direction of their attack this year. It means AJ Brimson will likely bide his time this year
offthe interchange, which opens him up to be a great prospective buy if his price drops and injuries strike in the halves or at the back.
- Arrow finds the mark: Jai Arrow was again very busy in this game here, along with big Shannon Boyd who led from the front well. SuperCoaches should have no reservations in plonking Arrow in their second row to start the year. Not much else needs to be said. Out and out
- Cheapie-watch: For the Broncos, Thomas Flegler and Patrick Carrigan played reasonably well off the interchange with the battle for Payne Haas’ vacant spot up for grabs leading into Round 1. They’ll be looking to put some pressure on starter Joe Ofahengaue, who was uncharacteristically quiet in this one but got through his work. With Haas scheduled to return in Round 5, there’ll be at least two price rises for whoever makes the final cut for TLT (if at all), but will it be worth it?
That’s it until the real thing folks.
You can catch me on Twitter @JT250SC