The Canberra Raiders have opened their account for 2024 with a big pre-season win over the Parramatta Eels at Kogarah, eventually running out 38 points to 16 winners.

Both coaches will come away from the clash with plenty of questions as they prepare for a season where they are both, frankly, looking for better than what they were able to get 12 months ago.

That is particularly so for Parramatta, but the Raiders too are looking to prevent a slide out of the top eight after sneaking in last year.

Here are the big talking points from Saturday's third trial.

Parramatta's back five takes shape

There have been plenty of question marks throughout the off-season around exactly how the Eels will line up in the back five come Round 1.

While there is little to no doubt that Clint Gutherson (fullback), Maika Sivo (wing) and Will Penisini (centre) will occupy spots, the other two positions were up in the air.

Morgan Harper's arrival adds to the already confusing selection situation, with Bailey Simonsson joining the club from Canberra ahead of 2022, and both Haze Dunster and Sean Russell at the club looking to hit the potential they showed through the junior ranks, but have so far been unable to replicate at NRL level.

It would appear after Saturday's game, where all four played against the Raiders, that Simonsson at centre and Russell on the wing have the inside running on their positions.

Russell was the best of the outside backs for Parramatta with six tackle breaks, while Simonsson was also solid at both ends of the park.

Harper had some influence and will look to prove he is still a force, having not been the same since one dismal night against Siosifa Talakai, while Dunster is realistically still on the comeback trail from a devastating injury.

Zac Cini is the other player in the Top 30, but had little involvement against Canberra and should feature more next weekend.

Who plays fullback for the Raiders?

It's a battle of two for the Raiders' number one jumper.

In one corner, Xavier Savage, who has been in and around the first-grade side over the last couple of years, but as yet hasn't become a household name at NRL level despite his enormous potential.

In the other corner, Chevy Stewart, a young gun who excelled at NSW Cup level last year and, at times, keeps Savage out of the reserve grade's number one jumper.

Both have their strong points, but it's clear one of them will be handed the keys to the back this year, with Sebastian Kris the only other likely option - he is suspended for Round 1 and should slot back in at centre come Round 2.

Stewart got the first crack at the position during Saturday's trial, but will need to show more next weekend after a quiet performance that was realistically only highlighted by a try-saver.

Savage too had minimal impact, but made 152 metres from his seven carries including a line break, although he seemed a little down on top speed when he did get into open space.

Expect Savage to have first crack at fullback next week as the duo tussle for the position, with Stuart no closer to working out who will play there after last night.

Is Nick Cotric guaranteed a spot in Round 1?

It seems quite wild to say, but Nick Cotric is only 25 years old.

It doesn't seem right, of course, but Cotric has already been around the top grade for seven years, having debuted back in 2017. He already has 141 games under his belt, has played for New South Wales and Australia, and comes into 2024 with a point to prove after mixed form in recent years.

But the question is - will he even get a chance to find that form?

If the fullback battle goes the way of Stewart, that could well land Xavier Savage on the wing, while Jordan Rapana has the other wing spot consolidated.

The centre spots belong to Sebastian Kris and Matt Timoko at full strength, but that doesn't even take into account boom youngster Albert Hopoate, or exciting back James Schiller, who was one of Canberra's best against the Eels.

Coach Ricky Stuart will not want to continue leaving Savage out of his side one way or another, but the only way to include him and Chevy Stewart could well be to exclude Cotric.

Watch this space.

Kelma Tuilagi is back

When he was coming through the junior ranks, now Parramatta but then Wests Tigers second-rower Kelma Tuilagi was seen as one of the best youngsters in the game.

He showed plenty of that when he first broke out at NRL level too, playing 5 games in 2021 and then another 22 in 2022 where he looked the part.

His form tailed at the back-end of 2022 before he moved to the Manly Sea Eagles, where, across 17 games in 2023, he had something of a season to forget.

Despite that, Tuilagi is still young and could be a valuable pick-up for Parramatta as they search for more second-row depth.

That will be even more so the case if he consistently plays like he did last night. He was comfortably the best forward on ground, with the barnstorming second-rower making 178 metres from 13 runs to go with eight tackle breaks and a line break, while he also looked to have improved on the defensive end.

There is no guarantee of a starting spot, but the youngster should be well and truly in the mix for a place in Brad Arthur's 17 based on his showing on Saturday.

Ricky Stuart no closer to deciding on number six

Canberra Raiders' coach Ricky Stuart's single biggest question this year is how to replace Jack Wighton, who has left the Raiders for the first time in his career to play for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

The Raiders have realistically signed no big name, and have no obvious replacement waiting in the wings, which means the race for Wighton's jumper is down to youngster Ethan Strange, who started at halfback last night, and Kaeo Weekes, who played in the six.

That alone would suggest Weekes has the inside running on the position, and the ex-Manly player who left the club for an opportunity at first-grade (he can also play fullback), was exceptional in his first hit-out for the green machine, scoring a try to cap the performance.

But Strange was just as good in the seven. Running the ball at smart times and with impact, he also forced a dropout and ran the kicking game during his time on the field, proving he could well be an exceptional foil for Jamal Fogarty.

Both will likely play again next week alongside Fogarty as Stuart nears a decision on the make-up of his Round 1 team, but this weekend can only be deemed a draw between the duo.

Blaize Talagi and Ethan Sanders are the next big things at Parramatta

While it's almost common knowledge at this point the Eels are going to lose Ethan Sanders to the Canberra Raiders in the near future, it will still be stinging the blue and gold, particularly after he put in a strong performance against Canberra on Saturday.

What was most impressive about the youngster who ran out at halfback for the blue and gold was his desire to be in everything.

He ran the ball 15 times across the course of the game, and while he didn't have a great deal of impact in what eventually developed into a heavy loss, he never once dropped off his work ethic.

It's something he has become known for throughout the juniors, and while he has more than just 'trying hard' to his game, it's something that will leave him in good stead moving forward.

Sanders was joined by another Eel who could have a breakout year in the spine, and in a team on the back foot, Talagi, who is listed as a five-eighth but can, and did, play fullback, ran for over 100 metres and had some nice moments during the game.

He is a big part of the future at Parramatta, and the club will be happy with the positive signs on display during their opening trial.