The NRL trials aren’t only the first taste of footy the rugby league calendar has to offer, but it answers a few of the off-season’s great questions as well.
1. Who will replace Cooper Cronk?
Brodie Croft appears the natural choice after some strong performances in limited opportunities, but it appears that isn’t the case. Half Ryley Jacks played with outstanding maturity in his stints last year, while Scott Drinkwater has had massive raps on his through his junior career. While Croft is the clear favourite, don’t count out Jacks just yet.
2. Will Trent Hodkinson begin the season in the NRL?
But if ‘Hodko’ starts the season in first-grade, then he’ll partner Townsend, with Moylan moving to fullback, Valentine Holmes to the wing, most likely displacing Aaron Gray from the first-grade.
3. Where will Greg Inglis play?
Emerged reports over the pre-season have Inglis touted for a return to the centres after a twelve month lay off courtesy of an ACL tear.
But will he start the year there? GI has been training at both centre and fullback, and poses a tough question to the international star. Would he rather retire a year or two earlier and have more involvement in the games, or extend his career at the risk of seeing less ball in his hands? It’s a tricky conundrum for first-time coach Anthony Seibold to have.
4. How will Newcastle fare against Top Four sides?
This question is already half answered after Newcastle played a closed off trial against Melbourne. With scheduled trials against the premiers and Parramatta, facing the top teams will be a great early test for the Knights, who saw 22 players depart the club after the 2017 season.
A 26-22 victory over Melbourne is an early indication of good things to come for the Novacastrians.
5. Who is the Roosters back-up half?
Luke Keary’s broken jaw poses an interesting question, who is the tricolours go to when a half is out?
To build such a strong starting side does mean the side needed to thin out their depth, with Mitch Cornish the likely replacement after the departures of Mitchell Pearce, Connor Watson and Jayden Nikorima.
6. Canberra’s Hooker
An ACL tear to Josh Hodgson has the Raiders season on the verge of tatters before a ball is kicked, but the trials will be a good indication as to who fills in the number nine jersey until June.
7. Will Jonathan Thurston be the same again?
Thurston, no matter how good he is, is getting old. The former Kangaroo and Maroon half is coming back from a gruelling shoulder injury, with fears his best is behind him.
But at the same time, do the Cowboys really need his best? The emergence of Michael Morgan’s dominance came during last year’s Finals Series, giving Thurston that little extra rest he undoubtedly needs.
8. Can Croker fill the void?
Blake Green has left Manly after a single season, but in that short year, managed to confirm something we’d long suspected – DCE needs a quality half alongside him if he’s to play his best footy.
We saw the best of Cherry-Evans when he was playing with Green or Kieran Foran, and struggled in 2016 without a decent half. A rookie of the game with less than a full game of NRL experience to his name, whether Croker can bring the best out of DCE is questionable.
9. Has Matt Lodge justified his return?
Many a voice in rugby league, specifically on social media, have sung for Matt Lodge to be banned for life. Following serious charges coming from his trip to the United States left his NRL career in shreds.
But Wayne Bennett, a man known for rebirthing rugby league’s badboys, has taken on the job of bringing Lodge back to the NRL. But will his form demand it, competing with the likes of Korbin Sims and Tevita Pangai Jnr?
10. Jarryd Hayne
I could nearly write ten questions simply about Jarryd Hayne. Where will he play? Can he leave his shocking Origin performance in the centres behind him if he is to flourish in the centres? Will he ever be the same player he left Parramatta as? The trials will give us a small taste of some answers, but it’s yet to be seen which Hayne Plane landed in Western Sydney.