The Roar
The Roar


Trial Takeaways: Dragons dazzle but Tigers terrible, Dolphins sweat on star's injury, Storm swamp Knights, Broncos sink Manly

Kyle Flanagan passes in Mudgee. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
24th February, 2024
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The Storm conquered the Knights in gorgeous Fiji, the Dolphins picked up an injury drama against the Warriors in Auckland, Brisbane’s next generation outshone Manly while the Dragons were way too strong for a disappointing Tigers team in Mudgee.

Here’s all you need to know from Saturday’s action in the NRL Pre-season Challenge.

Dragons 34, Wests 18

Red V rev up but Tigers lack bite

St George Illawarra showed enough at Mudgee on Saturday night to show they don’t deserve to be favourites for the wooden spoon. 

The Wests Tigers perhaps showed they should be the bookmakers’ favourites. 

There was plenty to like from the Dragons as they raced in the first four tries on their way to a comprehensive victory. 

Their defence had venom and their combinations out wide looked in synch. 


Dragons skipper Ben Hunt was the best player on the field, looking sharp and settled after an unsettled end to 23 when the star halfback repeatedly requested a release from the final two years of his contract.

MUDGEE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24: Kyle Flanagan of the Dragons passes during the NRL Pre-season challenge match between St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers at Glen Willow Sporting Complex on February 24, 2024 in Mudgee, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Kyle Flanagan passes in Mudgee. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Kyle Flanagan, who has followed his dad Shane to the club, combined well from five-eighth with Hunt while hooker Jacob Liddle gave them both great service in a five-star disaplay against his former club.

Hunt touched down twice as they shot out to a 24-0 lead, scoring either side of Mikaele Ravalawa and Moses Suli bulldozing their way through the Tigers’ brittle goal-line defence. 

Speedy fullback Jahream Bula sidestepped his way over for a solo effort to cut the halftime deficit to 18 but the Dragons regained the momentum early in the second half when Jack Bird grubbered cleverly for wingman Zac Lomax to make it 28-6. 

Coach Flanagan raised eyebrows by shifting Lomax to the wing and bringing Bird back to the centres but they formed a formidable pairing on the right edge.

Api Koroisau laid on a try for Fonua Pole before Hunt created a break for recent Bulldogs recruit Raymond Faitala-Mariner to put Tyrell Sloan over. 


Tigers rookie Heath Mason stepped past Sloan to notch a consolation try in the shadows of full-time with the final scoreline flattering the Wests side.

With Faitala-Mariner bolstering the forward depth and Luciano Leilua on his way back to the club after stints at the Tigers and the Cowboys, there is a steelier resolve about the Dragons’ pack. 

New coach Benji Marshall played a near full-strength side and kept most of his first-choice line-up on the field well into the second half because they have an extended gap now with the Round 1 bye. 

Jayden Sullivan had a couple of standout moments at five-eighth and Bula looked dangerous the few times he found open space but the Tigers’ pack lacked drive through the middle. 

Judging by the middling performance they produced on Saturday night, the two points from the opening bye could be the only time they are situated on the fringe of the top eight all year. 

With the Raiders, Sharks, Eels and Dolphins on the schedule for the first month of their campaign, Wests avoid the main title contenders early in the season so it’s vital they get away to a decent start or they could be headed for a third straight spoon. 


Melbourne 28, Newcastle 10

Storm show their class, Ponga makes long-awaited return

The Storm have completed their preparations with a successful swatting aside of the Newcastle Knights on a hot afternoon at Churchill Park in Fiji.

With temperatures exceeding 30 degrees celsius on Viti Levu, the match became a battle of attrition, with the Storms big signings proving the decisive factor in their 28-10 victory. Two weeks out from their opening-round encounter with reigning champions Penrith, the bulk of the Storm’s stars had their first run of the season on Saturday and had no trouble getting the job done.

Jonah Pezet, Young Tonumaipea and Harry Grant were among a strong contingent of players who delivered a solid result for the men from Melbourne, with Elisea Katoa and Xavier Coates bagging tries in the first quarter of the match to go out to an early lead.

While the Knights fought back with a try of their own in the 26th minute when Pezet cut the Newcastle backline in half. Having spent the last two years in the wings behind Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes, the young half put in a solid performance and looks ready to transition to NRL level.


Newcastle did look off the pace for much of the match, however, with combinations and cohesion clearly their focus for this clash there were plenty of positives to take from the performance.

Kalyn Ponga was a welcome return for the Steel City, looking to have picked up right where he left off with a contribution to one of Newcastle’s tries, and despite both being rested after 40 minutes, Bradman Best and Tyson Frizell also looked to ease into the season.

Less fortunate however was the Knights discipline, with new signings Kai Pearce-Paul and Thomas Jenkins both being placed on report in the second half, with Jacob Saifiti being sent to the bin for a late shot on Storm local Tui Kamikamica.

They missed a stack of tackles and looked lazy at times in defence, never more so than when Pezet danced through their line to score untouched in the first half.

Utility Jack Cogger appears to have lost the race for a starting halves role to Tyson Gamble and Jackson Hastings, coming off the bench to spell Phoenix Crossland at hooker.

However, Storm prop Tui Kamikamica looked inspired playing in front of his home crowd, churning out 88m in the first half alone to comfortably lead his side.


Warriors 34, Dolphins 22

Wahs prevail in high scoring clash, Dolphins sweat on Maroons star

The Warriors look to have picked up right where they left off after an entertaining clash at Go Media Stadium in Auckland, overcoming a second-half fightback from Redcliffe to prevail at front of a strong crowd.

New Zealand’s combinations looked especially deadly in the first half, with Wayde Egan at hooker and Shaun Johnson enjoying strong performances, especially in the first half as the hosts ran up a big tally.

Beaten in last season’s preliminary final, the Warriors showed signs they could be even better in the new campaign, with off-season addition Kurt Capewell creating a try and fitting in seamlessly.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 24: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors charges forward during the NRL Pre-season challenge match between New Zealand Warriors and Dolphins at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart on February 24, 2024 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck charges forward against the Dolphins. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)


Roger Tuivasa-Sheck also looked promising on his return to the 13-man code, while Taine Tuaupiki looks set to play a much more prominent role in the Warriors makeup, with the side looking settled ahead of their round one clash against the Sharks.

For the hosts, they couldn’t have asked for a more positive hitout to end their preseason preparations. For the visitors, however, it is anything but.

Tom Gilbert may have been dealt a heartbreaking blow on the eve of the NRL season, carried from the field with an ACL tear suspected.

The 23-year-old went down with a non-contact knee issue while trying to make a tackle on Warriors centre Rocco Berry at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.

Gilbert’s knee twisted and he could be seen screaming in pain as he fell to the ground, before being helped off the field by two club medical team members.


It would be a cruel blow for the Dolphins, but even more so for Gilbert after he missed more than half of the 2023 season because a shoulder injury sustained in State of Origin required reconstructive surgery.

While they might be sweating on the loss of Gilbert, it was not all bad news for the visitors, fighting back well from an 24-6 deficit to ask plenty of questions of the hosts at the back end of the match.

Most notably, they look to have found a strong centres pairing, an achilles heel of their 2023 campaign, with Herbie Farnworth picking up a try for his efforts, but also combining well with new arrival from Canterbury, Jake Averillo.

Valynce Te Whare also looms in contention for coach Wayne Bennett to mull over, scoring a consolation try late in the match.

Overall, the visitors found some classy attacking moments in the second half. However, the loss of arguably their most important player is a devastating outcome that looms large over their final preseason fixture, and they will be sweating on the results of Gilbert’s injury.

Sea Eagles 14, Broncos 40

Brisbane’s young guns fire past Manly


The Broncos and Sea Eagles fielded second-string outfits at Brookvale Oval and with Brisbane wearing their white strip with maroon and gold trimmings it looked like a Manly opposed session.

Unfortunately for the fans who turned up the match was of a not much higher standard.

There was only a sprinkling of NRL experience on either side – second-rowers Ben Condon and Brad Parker, hooker Gordon Chan Kum Tong and prop Toff Sipley, despite copping a three-game ban last week which only counts for the regular season, for the home side while Brisbane’s only players who have lined up at the top level were halfback Kurt Falls, journeyman centre Delouise Hoeter, winger Jordan Pereira and hooker Cory Paix.

Parker opened the scoring by hitting a hole in his new role after switching from centre in the off-season but after teammate Max Lehmann made it 10-0, the Broncos surged to an eight-point lead at half-time via tries to Falls, impressive bench forward Kalolo Saitaua and Sione Hopoate just before the break.

Hopoate was ruled to have lost possession as he touched down in the corner but because the ball was kicked out of his hands and Brisbane’s try in the corner was relocated to in front of the posts.

When Hoeter touched down soon after the restart, Lehmann’s second kept Manly in the contest but the Broncos kicked clear with Paix, Falls and interchange forward Joshua Patston making it a comfortable victory.


with AAP