Penrith Panthers centre Brent Naden has been provisionally suspended under the NRL’s anti-doping policy, after an A-sample returned a positive result for metabolites of cocaine.
Injuries in trial matches are always a possibility prior to the beginning of the season, and with burnout and fatigue an increasing factor at the end of the season, many are questioning the value of NRL trial matches.
For most teams with settled squads there seems little point in having them play an extra two trial matches at the beginning of the year, particularly in hot and humid weather, but the Dragons and Rabbitohs are always looking to win the Charity Shield grudge match before the beginning of the season.
Some coaches enjoy putting their players through torturous routines in the off-season but still feel the need for a trial match to brush away the cobwebs before the season begins.
The truth is that it largely depends upon the team and the coach and his particular motivations and objectives, but some teams have very clear cut objectives:.
New Zealand Warriors
Testing ISP halves to take the position of Shaun Johnson is obviously the top priority, with perhaps the option of Peter Hiku at half a fallback position and a midseason purchase with the salary cap released by Johnson also a further backup.
North Queensland Cowboys
Equally obvious is the Cowboys need to test options to replace Ben Barba at fullback. Utility Ben Hampton is favoured. With Barba’s salary cap released they are also looking around to buy now.
Coach Ricky Stuart needs to check out fullback and five-eighth options after the departure of Blake Austin. He also has to consider the major downsizing of the forward pack with prop forward replacements following the departures of Shannon Boyd and Junior Paulo. English forward Ryan Sutton and Jospeh Tapine are potential prop forward replacements to be trialled, with English forward John Bateman replacing Tapine in the second row.
The Roosters are very settled, with Angus Crichton coming in on the second row and Brett Morris, who should provide a like for like replacement for Eels signing Blake Ferguson, on the wing.
The Eels will be looking for the integration of their hoped-for Semi Radradra replacement, Blake Ferguson. They’ll also be looking to test options for hooker, five-eighth and fullback following the departure of Corey Norman with a view to improving their wooden spoon finish in 2018.
Matt Moylan has to work at fullback while Shaun Jonson takes over at half, but the biggest questions are in the forwards and other backline positions following multiple departures.
The Broncos are looking for front rowers with Pangai Junior being pushed into the front row and are hoping that Jack Bird at centre will perform to his price tag in 2019.
The Storm are looking a little weaker in the forwards following the departure of Tim Glasby but the real question is how to replace Slater.
The Panthers look strong across the park but need to firm up on an 80-minute hooker.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Kane Elgy will be looking to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves.
Gold Coast Titans
The problem here is where to fit in AJ Brimson, Tyrone Peachey, Ryley Jacks and the returning Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor.
Benji Marshall is there again, but what to do with high-priced Josh Reynolds?
The Bulldogs have too many problems to contemplate in less than a full article.
St George Illawarra Dragons
With a mostly settled NRL squad like the Dragons there is little to be gained by exposing players to two trials, and it is likely that Gareth Widdop may be rested and Corey Norman trialled instead.
The Dragons play the first trial against the Newcastle Knights, with the ex-Dragons and Newcastle coach looking to test new combinations with a haul of major off-season signings as well as the switch of Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Wayne Bennett has a settled squad with only Cameron Murray to be tested at lock. But with Bennett also an ex-Dragons coach, expect a full team trial from both teams for the Charity Shield. The full Dragons pack will be out to assert their dominance after losing in the finals last season to Souths, while the Dragons halves will be looking to get that field goal that eluded them in the finals.
So yes there have it – many different objectives important to different clubs, and I for one am looking forward to the All Stars game, World Club Challenger and all the trials to get the first glimpses of the 2019 season.