Week 2 Trials – The Wrap

Well, I can’t seem to recall a more eventful NRL trials week, at least in terms of SuperCoach news. All eyes on developing combinations, cheapie candidates and players returning from injury made for a big week where I’m sure teams have been shuffled and re-shuffled continuously as the games played out. You just know that a season is around the corner when NRL Physio’s outstanding Twitter account comes roaring back into play, and boy oh boy, he had his work cut out for him here.

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Let’s start with the massive news of the week, and it’s, of course, the huge injury toll that has piled up before a Round 1 ball has been kicked in anger. The biggest of the lot are obviously Tom Trbojevic, Tevita Pangai Junior and Viliame Kikau, who all pulled up lame on Saturday night, leaving SuperCoaches scrambling for the trade button and causing mass shakeups of sides that were basically locked in a month ago. The trio are booked in for scans with quotes anywhere from 0-6 weeks between them. With just under 3 weeks to go before the opening game of the year, it’s quite the headache.

Of course, the nature of the trials means that outside of getting some match-juice (but not a lot) into the cobwebbed legs of key players and giving plenty of young guns a go, there’s not much to read into from a footballing perspective. Unless your team won, in which case this result is obviously a sure sign of success to come this year and those losers making excuses for their third-string side conceding a flurry of late points to go down don’t know what they’re talking about.

In this article, we’re going to give a rundown of the results of each trial match, the major talking points and the injuries/issues that might be affecting these sides leading into next week’s trials and the season beyond. We’ll also highlight some of the key SuperCoach-relevant players (guns, rookies, potential PODs) who were involved. Let’s get stuck into it!

Melbourne Storm 6 (C. Blair Try, R. Papenhuyzen 1 Goal) def. by  New Zealand Warriors 12 (H. Pernham, N. Fomai Tries, A. Keighran 2 Goals)

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Storm: Scott Drinkwater, Joe Stimson, Jahrome Hughes

Warriors: Lachlan Burr, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Keighran, Isaiah Papali’I, Nat Roache,

Key Talking Points:

> Warriors Halves: It was a key game for rookie halves Harris-Tavita and Keighran whose battle to partner Blake Green in the halves for round 1 looks set to go down to the wire. Harris-Tavita took a leading role in directing the halves play for around 60 minutes during the match, while Keighran took on goal-kicking duties which could be a handy asset to have if the rumoured departure of Isaac Luke to the Eels comes to fruition. Either way it goes, SuperCoaches look primed to pounce on a much-needed cheapie in their halves ranks here. Harris-Tavita came out of the match looking like the more dominant half (albeit with not much success), but the key will be whether or not Blake Green is tasked with running the show and needs a deputy, or whether coach Kearney gives one of his young brigade licence to lead the Warriors around.

> Benchie Burr?: Meanwhile, cheap 2RF bench candidate Lachlan Burr started on the edge for the Warriors and churned through plenty of work, notching 27 tackles in his time on the field and a match-high 18 runs. Certainly does his chances no harm in a Warriors forward pack that needs some workhorses in the absence of the retired Simon Mannering. Fellow bench forward candidate Sam Lisone looked rusty and lacking fitness, so the door is more than ajar for Burr here. Ligi Sao also had plenty of Warriors fans singing his praises after his effort here but is yet another body in quite the logjam for bench spots/minutes.

> Comeback Roache: Nate Roache came through the match well, notching 20 minutes in his comeback from injury. If he gets a chance at hooker this season he’ll be a genuine Round 1 candidate with dual flexibility in CTW/HOK. Hayze Perham came off the bench to score the winning try and by all reports was a big attacking X-Factor. Finds himself a little down the pecking order in the halves/fullback spots but a cheapie candidate to look out for during the season.

> Slater’s replacement: For the Storm, their inexperienced side generally failed to fire in attack, but plenty of eyes were on the performance of rookie Scott Drinkwater at the back. His stocks have risen a great deal since being named ahead of the more experienced Jarome Hughes, who was rested for this one after originally being named on the bench backing up from the All Stars match. Drinkwater was poleaxed in a crunching tackle taking on the Warriors defensive line and made a couple of errors, but made some confidence-boosting runs in his full 80-minutes on the field and notched an LBA that led to a try on the right edge. Key this week in the Storm’s trial against the Cowboys will be just who gets the nod between Hughes and Drinkwater for the starting role, with many SuperCoaches now banking on the latter as a cheapie option in the potential absence of Tommy Turbo.

> Midrange Muddle: Plenty of minutes shared around between the Storm forwards. Mid-ranger Joe Stimson got through 31 tackles but just the 3 runs, with Tui Kamikamica taking on the bulk of the work in the pack with 14 runs for 118 metres. Stimson will need to be getting his hands on the ball a lot more often if he’s to build into the cash cow in the starting pack many are hoping for, but that’s to be expected when the likes of Smith and Munster are back on deck.


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St George / Illawarra Dragons 18 (P. Vaughan, J. Kerr, M. Ravalawa (2) Tries, G. Widdop 1 goal) def Newcastle Knights 10 (L. Fitzgibbon, E. Lee tries, K. Ponga 1 goal)

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Dragons: Paul Vaughan, Josh Kerr, Zac Lomax,

Knights: Kalyn Ponga, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Kurt Mann, Tim Glasby

Key talking points:

> Dynamic Duo: Well, a certain combination lit the Twittersphere alight on Saturday afternoon. Kalyn Ponga went a long way to alleviating some fears from last week that he would struggle to live up to the hype in his new #6 jersey, putting Lachlan Fitzgibbon over for a try and helping set up another out wide. He played just the first half but it was enough to show that there’s plenty to get excited about here for Knights’ fans and SuperCoaches alike. Fitzgibbon in the same process suddenly rockets into contention with many banking on a Cooper/Thurston-like combination to provide plenty of attacking stats for him during the year. The big man certainly holds his own on that edge with impressive footwork leading to his first meat pie of the year.

> Hooking case closed: Danny Levi looks to have sewn up the starting hooking role for Round 1 with a solid 30-minute stint, while his main competition for the role in Kurt Mann struggled when filling in. It looks likely that Mann will resume his role as bench utility which spells an end to speculation he could be a Round 1 cash cow at hooker. In hindsight, it would have been a massive effort for Mann to play himself into this position so quickly, but Nathan Brown’s certainly got a high opinion of him. Connor Watson was very lively at the back and will be a massive attacking weapon playing to his strengths this year (running game) but starts at a very steep price.

> Dragons spine clutter: For the Dragons, their new-look spine continues to take shape, with new recruit Corey Norman starting in the halves and Gareth Widdop spending time at fullback early. Matt Dufty looks likely to be the bench utility in Round 1 but was electric when he came on in the fullback role for the second half. Is it really the best move for McGregor to be limiting this guy’s game time? Especially with Widdop seemingly still struggling on the comeback trail from troublesome shoulder injuries and still needing time to adapt to his role at the back. Either way, fewer minutes for Dufty off the bench early in the year will ensure his price drops handily and makes him an interesting option later in the year.

> No JDB = Minutes up for grabs: The potential absence of Jack De Belin opens up a lot of minutes in the forward pack, with Paul Vaughan likely to be the main beneficiary here. The big man crashed over for a try early on and looked strong in a short stint. He fell back a little with reduced minutes and attacking stats last year and had his injury issues, but we all know what he can do. At sub-$500k, he’s certainly piqued some interest here. Meanwhile, rookie prop Josh Kerr made it two tries from two games and could have had a third with a try disallowed for a forward pass. He’s putting his hand up bigtime for a bench spot in Round 1, but will likely struggle for meaningful minutes with the 3-forward bench rotation and veterans Vaughan and Graham in front of him. A slow-burner if anything if given the chance.

> Right-side Rookies: Zac Lomax was a little tentative in his run in the centres during the game (coming in off the wing for Euan Aitken) and was outshone by fellow rookie CTW Mikaele Ravalawa, who scored a belter of a try on the right wing in the second half and collected a double off a kick to seal the win late. He possesses quite the step and his huge frame saw him beat a host of Knights defenders on his way to the line for his first try. Would be tremendous to see him and Lomax link up but Aitken and Lafai holding claim to the centre spots and Jonus Pearson likely to be on the left wing means there’s only room for one. That said, Aitken was decidedly ordinary in this game, throwing a stack of forward passes to butcher certain tries out wide. While he’s the incumbent, he certainly didn’t show much.

Canberra Raiders 28 (N. Cotric (2), R. Hunt, B. Simonsson, T. Satini tries, J. Croker 4 goals) def Canterbury Bulldogs 22 (K. Holland (2), A. Tolman, R. Smith tries, K. Holland 3 goals)

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Raiders: Brad Abbey, Elliott Whitehead, Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad,

Bulldogs: Kerrod Holland, Aiden Tolman, Rhyse Martin, Dylan Napa, Corey Harawira-Naera,

Key talking points:

> MIA Martin: Rhyse Martin has seemingly fallen off the pecking order cliff in recent weeks, with Coach Dean Pay infamously failing to name the gun second-rower in his list of second-row options earlier in the week before naming him in jersey 25 for this one. With both sides fielding reasonably strong lineups, it was a dagger for Martin’s chances at a Round 1 starting spot. To compound his tough week, he saw himself sin-binned in the second half. Ouch.

> Napa Debuts: It was a massive moment when big Dylan Napa took the field for his first game as a Bulldog with all the drama of the off-season hopefully behind him. Leading up front with the ultimate workman Aiden Tolman, the huge unit was used sparingly and found go-forward tough, but will need to be leading from the front in the absence of David Klemmer for the Dogs this season. He was subbed in the first half and had ice on his knee but doesn’t seem to be in any major strife. His price tag is low, but he’ll need to be in the right headspace to take off this season. If Pay decides to go with Marshall-King off the bench to relieve Lichaa (or vice versa), this will be another tick for him.

> Tryscorer Tolman: Is there a better sight in rugby league than a front rower getting the ball in space? Already a Round 1 POD candidate with a starting spot in the prop rotation sewn up, Tolman looked decidedly zippy taking an inside pass from Will Hopoate, racing through a gap and taking on the fullback and winning to dot over. Along with Napa, his minutes were limited here but he is hopefully warming up to take on plenty of time on the park this year.

> Entertainers Return?: A couple of very sharp tries to Kerrod Holland on the left edge through some brittle Raiders defence (plenty of work to do for Tapine/Croker/Sezer by the looks) should get Doggies fans a little more excited that their dour last few years are behind them. Holland now looks a genuine candidate for Round 1 SuperCoach selection with a strong performance here and the goalkicking duties back with Martin’s absence.

> Raiders sneak another win: The Raiders mounted a successful comeback in the second half against the second/third string Dogs replacements. They were led by Jack Wighton, who warmed up in the #6 jersey as the game wore on. Josh Hodgson chimed in at the line occasionally in a good sign that there’ll be plenty of try contribution points coming his way this year, while Croker was smart on the edge. They weren’t slick by any means, but those three will be involved in a big way in the direction of this side in 2019.

> Bated breath for forward answers: There has been talk during the off-season that Stuart’s affinity for English recruit John Bateman would see a reshuffling of the pack to squeeze him in at lock, but the good performance of Tapine and Whitehead on the edges should see their spots safe for now. This likely means that Papal’ii and Soliola (or even Royce Hunt, who was strong here) will play at 8 and 10, leaving the lock spot open for Bateman. One interesting factor is that fellow Englishman Ryan Sutton was relatively quiet and outshone by red-headed rookie Corey Horsburgh who played with plenty of intensity when given his chance for the second week in a row. Sutton played off the bench and looks like he will take some time to adapt to the conditions here, meaning he’s unlikely to win out a starting spot in the front row for Round 1. Watch out for Horsburgh down the line, he’s a good’n.

> Racing the Klokstad: It appears that rookie Brad Abbey will lose out the Round 1 fullback spot to Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad, who started ahead of Abbey in this one and was safe at the back and ran strongly on his way to 180 metres. There are plenty of ball-players in the Raiders side so attacking stats may be hard to come by for CNK, but his work rate here looks well ahead of Abbey’s. Great CTW cheapie to have.


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North Queensland Cowboys 22 (J. Clifford (3), T. Martin tries, Clifford 3 goals) Def. Gold Coast Titans 16 (J. Arthars, M. Rein, L. Latu tries, J Arthars 1 goal, D. Phythian 1 goal)

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Cowboys: Te Maire Martin, Jake Clifford, Jason Taumalolo, Ethan Lowe

Titans: Bryce Cartwright, Brenko Lee, Moeaki Fotuaika

Key talking points:

> Sunshine Coast turns it on: Wanted to give a quick shoutout here as I was in the crowd at Sunshine Coast Stadium and it was a tremendous atmosphere in the packed ground. The only lasting effects of ex-Cyclone Oma were a stiff breeze that played havoc with the kicking and passing games of both sides, but it was a brilliantly sunny day to watch footy on the hill like the old days. Plenty of Cowboys jerseys at this one made me feel right at home. The footy’s back, the Cowboys’ win means they’re obviously premiership favourites now and life is good!

> Clifford the Big Red Half: Building off his debut year in 2018 and with the more-favoured Te Maire Martin expected to partner Michael Morgan in the halves, Clifford barely took a step wrong after a shaky start. He took on a more dominant role in the Cowboys’ attack in a great sign for the young man’s confidence and headspace and picked up a hat-trick of tries. Admittedly, these came against some very soft Titans edge defence and an intercept, but there were great signs here. He won the points battle against TMM on Saturday, but whether he’s the best fit to combine with Morgan for Round 1 remains to be seen. If Clifford does jag a starting spot, his handy goalkicking means that Jordan Kahu might not be the first-choice goalkicker we assumed, which practically wipes Kahu out of any conversation as a potential SuperCoach buy.

> Big Bad Bash Brothers: It was only a short spell for all of them in the first half, but the combination of Jason Taumalolo, Jordan McLean and Matt Scott through the middle was immense. This was the form that they finished last season in, and it’ll mean a hell of a lot more attacking chances for the halves and Granville if they can continue to click. Josh McGuire is expected to take up a spot in the starting rotation which will mean Matt Scott is likely to come off the bench. I don’t mind this as a Cowboys fan, as we have lost far too much previously when rotating our big-name forwards out midgame. Scott showed no signs of the neck injury that threatened to put an early end to his career, but short bursts from the interchange look to be the way he’ll close out his fantastic career.

> Carty ready to party?: Bryce Cartwright had plenty of game time out on the left edge and looked a combination of the party animal of old and the drunk tank slob of 2018. He threw a few handy offloads and a slick inside ball to fullback Jesse Arthars to open the Cowboys up through the middle, but missed his fair share of tackles and threw a dumb pass or two that cost them momentum. It’s exactly the type of coach-killer efforts that will cost him any meaningful game time this year, but at least he did something right to make up for it.

> Flawless Fotu: In a game where minutes were given mainly to the rookies and reserve-graders from both sides, Moeaki Fotuaika was hugely impressive in his time on the field, with the big unit proving very difficult to bring down and showing exactly the type of form that raised the eyebrows of SuperCoaches last season. If this guy was able to somehow jag a starting front row spot ahead of the more experienced Shannon Boyd, he’d be almost a must-have based on his game style. Great signs for the young brigade coming through on the Coast.

> Rabbit-lowe?: Ethan Lowe’s expected departure to South Sydney in the coming weeks didn’t stop Paul Green from naming him in the starting second row, and he got through plenty of work on the left side for the Cowboys in decent minutes. He is more workmanlike than anything else and looked one of the fittest out there in that role. Will be a handy pickup for the Bunnies to shore up their second-row stocks. Meanwhile, for the Cowboys, Mitch Dunn had plenty of game time and some very handy touches out on Coen Hess’s right edge spot and looks set for a bench spot at some point during the year. Good depth to have.

South Sydney Rabbitohs 8 (J. Gagan (2) tries) Def by. Penrith Panthers 28 (S. Katoa, R. Campbell-Gillard, T. May, P. Pua, B. Naden tries, J. Maloney (2), J. Cartwright (2) goals)

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Rabbitohs: Corey Allan, Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Sam Burgess, Cameron Murray

Panthers: Tyrell Fuimaono, Viliame Kikau, Josh Mansour, Dylan Edwards

> Horrible conditions sour Sutton’s day: Wet and windy conditions at Redfern meant that ball handling and go-forward were difficult throughout this one, and so it’s tough to read too much into the play of both sides. The result blew out in the end for the Panthers but this was long after many of the Rabbits’ first-grade brigade had made their way to the sideline.

> Rabbitohs guns put their hands up: While they were mostly confined to short stints in the first half, the Bunnies fielded a very strong starting side, with the likes of Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Sam Burgess trotting out. Of most interest to SuperCoaches is that the three got through the game unscathed, but there was not much else to read into.

> Allan the cut-price CTW: Corey Allan played on the wing and at fullback for the Bunnies and made a good impression, busting 5 tackles and running the ball 10 times. The points flowed out to Jacob Gagan on the left wing but Allan might have done enough to show he’s ready to make the step up.

> Kikau Injured: The horrible conditions claimed an early victim on Saturday, with Billy Kikau going off with a knee injury in just the 3rd minute of the game. Early prognosis is that he has done low-grade medial ligament damage, but it was a horrible sight to see given his issues with injury in 2018. Will be racing the clock to be fit for Round 1. It means that a spot has potentially opened up for Tyrell Fuimaono in the starting side, with Fui getting through plenty of work in the centres in this game.

> Penrith backline taking shape: Dylan Edwards, Waqa Blake and Josh Mansour were the big names in the Penrith backs and put in solid showings in the conditions. Mansour busted just the one tackle but at the moment, the more game time he can get the better. Edwards looked lively at the back in his time on the field, with Penrith not likely to lose much in the absence of DWZ here.

Cronulla Sharks 28 (R. Mulitalo (2), J. Morris, B. Xerri, S. Katoa tries, K. Flanagan (4) goals) Def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 22 (M. Taupau, D. Cherry-Evans, C. Sironen, J. Anderson tries, T. Hodkinson (3) goals

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Sharks: Bronson Xerri, Blayke Brailey, Briton Nikora

Sea Eagles: Tom Trbjoevic, Daly Cherry-Evans, Reuben Garrick,

Key Talking Points:

> Turbo Trouble: The sight of Tommy Turbo hobbling off with a hamstring complaint on Saturday night sent shivers up the spines of Manly fans everywhere. It’s hoped with positive scan results that he’ll still be available for Round 1, but it’s a massive concern in his first hit-out of the year. Can SuperCoaches afford to put $700k towards him looking at that footage?

> Tryscoring Taupau: Just like Tolman and Vaughan, another FRF candidate crossed the stripe with Marty Taupau strolling through some absent Sharks defence early on. With injuries to bench forwards Tanginoa and Paseka, things look good for Taupau to up his minutes this year which will be massive for the PPM beast. 170 metres from his first game of the year is a great indication of where he’s currently at.

> Sweet Xerri Pie-time: 18-year-old rookie Bronson Xerri stunned with a runaway try off the back of a huge right foot step and made one hell of a claim for a Round 1 berth in the process. To do this while the majority of Manly’s first-string side were on the park is another plus for the young gun.

> Cheapies. Cheapies Everywhere: Not just Xerri, but there were plenty of Round 1 hopefuls on show on Saturday night from both sides. Reuben Garrick started on the wing for Manly and Blayke Brailey (Jayden’s brother) got a go at starting hooker for the Sharks. Neither did much of note in their time on the field but good signs that they have done enough in the pre-season to land the first crack here in the trial. Of the two, Garrick looks likely to lock down a Round 1 spot with the Turbo injury and off-field issues surrounding Dylan Walker. Briton Nikora also put in a decent showing in the #11 jersey for Cronulla. He outperformed fellow second-rower Scott Sorensen and did his chances no harm. TLT is definitely going to be massive!

Brisbane Broncos 26 (T. Flegler, R. Kennar. K. Staggs, D. Fifita, C. Paix tries, K. Staggs (1), H. Farnworth (1) goals) Def.

Wynnum-Manly Seagulls 12 (K. Palasia, K. Saitaua tries, J. Pauga (1), E. Gebbie (1) goals)

Key SuperCoach players involved:

Broncos: Jack Bird, Patrick Carrigan, Tevita Pangai Jr, David Fifita

Key talking points:

TPJ Hamstrung – Again: Oh no. The all-too-familiar sight of TPJ with his hamstring on ice it capped off a horror night of injuries for SuperCoach favourites on Saturday. Early fears were that the lock forward would be out for a month or two given his history with the injury, but word out of Red Hill is that the injury is not as bad as first feared and he should be right for next week. Even so – to not make it through the first game of the year unscathed after all the troubles he faced in 2018 is not a great sign. SuperCoaches are suddenly thinking twice about locking him in.

Baby Broncos: For the second week running, Brisbane trotted out a host of youngsters with a boatload of potential amongst them. Sprinkled in the side were the likes of Jack Bird, Alex Glenn, David Fifita and Pangai Jr. to add some more experienced heads to the mix, but their depth looks very strong. Of most relevance out of these rookies for Round 1 SuperCoach, forward Patrick Carrigan came off the bench and was heavily involved with 14 runs for 142 metres and was one of their best. Injuries and suspensions have increased Carrigan’s chances of an early-season run and he’s another cheapie with plenty of eyes on him.

Dual-Fifitas in your side?: TPJ’s injury has opened the door for gun rookie David Fifita to stamp a claim on a starting second-row spot this year and has some backing him as an almost like-for-like replacement for TPJ in SuperCoach terms. He ran 100 metres, busted tackles and threw an offload to go along with a try and has all the makings of a future gun 2RF. Will it be this year?


North Queenslander born and bred, Justin is also very much a Cowboys tragic. Rumours have it that his first born son will be named Thurston.

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marmalade (@marmalade)
1 year ago

Having watched some of the games intently, that’s a great account of what went down, congratulations and thanks for the effort you have gone to. I think another rookie in Herbert (ex Dragon’s) went well in CTW for Warriors but not sure where he is in the pecking order otherwise noting else to add. Outstanding!

LOTE (@oscar-stgeorge)
1 year ago

Great article and loved the headline news story addition. I made 4 different changes to my team after this weeks trials so it’ll be interesting to see how much I tear my team apart after next weeks trials!

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