Sometimes, all it takes is a single opportunity for a player to announce themselves on the grandest stage.

Hampered by injury last season where he only managed 12 games in first-grade, it was Ben Trbojevic who this time benefited from an injury to maligned teammate Josh Schuster to make a statement in a historic NRL season-opener over the weekend.

Schuster, who spent the 2023 campaign attempting to turn himself into a five-eighth - something that has been bafflingly called for from sections of the media for some time given he once captained the New South Wales under-18 team from the second-row - was set to return to the edge this year.

That came after the Sea Eagles made the big call to sign Luke Brooks. He isn't the focus of this at all, but he was exceptional for Manly in Las Vegas too, seemingly making the call from Anthony Seibold's recruitment team the correct one just a single game into the season.

There is plenty of water to pass under the bridge of course, but on the surface, the call to move Schuster back to a position where he starred during his rookie season, for a player who has always had unrealised potential, just not in the role he played during a decade-long stint at the Wests Tigers, seemed a good one.

But then Schuster went down with an injury. A restricted pre-season saw him contract chickenpox, then injure a finger requiring surgery, ultimately missing the opener on the other side of the world. That opener saw the Sea Eagles put on an attacking masterclass and left the South Sydney Rabbitohs wondering if the horrors of 2023, where their defence fell apart in a dramatic collapse across the second half of the season, were about to return.

But, back to Schuster - all of the news out of the Manly camp has been that he is as fit as he has been in years. He was going to be a walk-up starter for Round 1.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16: Josh Schuster of the Sea Eagles passes the ball during the round three NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and Parramatta Eels at 4 Pines Park on March 16, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The performance from his replacement - the youngest of three Trbojevic brothers who all played in the historic clash - though, will leave plenty of questions lingering for coach Seibold and his staff.

That said, those questions really should have been foreseen. Many good judges on Sydney's Northern Beaches have commented at various stages of his development that Trbojevic, who can play at centre but seems to be settling into the second-row at NRL level, was actually better than both of his superstar brothers Tom and Jake were at the same age.

Those comments have disappeared with injuries and a failure to kick on in first-grade, but his season-opening performance on Sunday suggests those conversations might reignite throughout the course of the upcoming campaign.

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It may not be shown on the stats sheet, where it looks as if Trbojevic had a limited impact on the game, particularly so when compared to second-row partner Haumole Olakau'atu, who must be close to a State of Origin debut this year, but the performance from Trbojevic certainly passed the pub test.

The first - and maybe most obvious - boost for the Sea Eagles was that he managed to get through 71 minutes. Given Schuster has had some issues with fitness, and Trbojevic, too, has struggled injury-wise, that in Round 1 is as big a vote of confidence in his own ability as you'll find.

But it was more than just the quantity. It was the quality.

Trbojevic, who was only credited with 63 metres, had numerous strong touches, looked dangerous with the ball in hand, and more importantly, was creative. 

The modern game increasingly has an over-reliance on every player on the field being able to create in attack. It's a trend we have seen at lock forward, in particular, which in the last decade has turned from a prop with a little bit of extra ability, to a half in a forward's body.

You only need to look at the best locks of the modern game - Isaah Yeo, Cameron Murray and Patrick Carrigan - compared to those who were at the peak of their powers in the position half a decade ago like Jason Taumalolo or Ben's brother Jake Trbojevic to understand how the position has changed.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 02: Jake Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles warms up ahead of the round 18 NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters at 4 Pines Park on July 02, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

There are other examples of course. Centre is about to become a roaming position more than ever before with a number of star fullbacks potentially playing there this year, led by the Warriors' Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who can draw off the performances of Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell in the Origin arena during that famous 2021 series win for New South Wales.

Even props these days need to have an offload, some ball-playing skills, and footwork.

So it goes without saying that the more agile second-rowers, who form a crucial link between the middle and their outside men, have so much riding on the style of game they will play for their teams this year.

And that's where Ben Trbojevic fit in so nicely against South Sydney. Forming part of a lethal edge, he broke the line for a try, did a job when required with his passing game, and barely put a foot wrong across his 71 minutes on the field.

Again, it doesn't look much on the stats sheet, but it was a performance which says he will do what it takes for the team to be successful.

Defensively, he was also outstanding. He looked fit, had strong endurance and positioned himself well. In a high-scoring game, he missed four tackles, but lower numbers there will come with more experience as he continues to build into what is a promising (at worst) first-grade career.

Schuster himself has struggled in those departments in recent times, and while there is no doubt he could slot in and return to his 2021 form, which saw him become one of the best attacking second-rowers in the competition, this is now a major selection headache for Seibold.

In fact, this masthead published last year that Schuster's best position may well actually be at lock forward if he can get fit, with Jake Trbojevic focusing on running and tackling more than the fancy stuff at prop.

NRL Rd 16 - Bulldogs v Sea Eagles
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 03: Ben Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles celebrates with his team mate Tom Trbojevic after scoring a try only to have it disallowed during the round 16 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Manly Sea Eagles at Stadium Australia, on July 03, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

That may well be the way forward for Manly given ‘Burbo' has essentially made himself undroppable in Round 1. That means Manly could be looking at having one of their highest-paid players coming off the bench moving forward.

While this looks to be a better headache than Seibold had last year given Manly's struggles, it's also one he needs to get right given how close the race for this year's NRL Finals series is likely to be.

If Manly is there, don't be surprised if Ben Trbojevic plays a big role.

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