What we learned from the NRL’s weekend action
Rugby league returned on the weekend, with the Indigenous v Maori All Stars, World Club Challenge and two trial matches.
This is what we learned as season 2019 fast approaches.
PARRAMATTA EELS 20 V CANBERRA RAIDERS 22
PARRA'S PLAYMAKERS LOCKED IN
Coach Brad Arthur all but confirmed the make-up of his spine for round one on Friday night. Clint Gutherson, Dylan Brown, Mitchell Moses and Reed Mahoney spent around 55 minutes on the field. That same combination for feature again in Parramatta's final trial against Penrith.
"That's their first time they had their opportunity. It's different at training you don't get put under the pressure of a game. We have another trial in a couple of weeks and we'll try and increase their spine to 70-75 minutes ready for round one," Arthur said.
BABY EELS READY TO GO
If there were any doubts about Brown's ability to replace Corey Norman in the halves then they were put to rest on Friday night.
Brown, 18, took control in attack when he needed to and regularly marshalled his side's attacking line.
Fellow youngster Ethan Parry showed why he is on the cusp of an NRL berth. The outside back crossed for a double, showcasing some impressive support play to snatch his second try of the night.
RAIDERS BACK FIVE PUZZLE
New recruit Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was rolled out on the wing on Friday night. He had a shaky start but recovered as the match went on. He had his biggest impact when he was moved to fullback, where he made some powerful runs out of his own half. With flyer Jordan Rapana out injured until at least May and Jack Wighton eyeing a shift into the halves, coach Ricky Stuart is looking for two new faces in his back five. Nicoll-Klokstad, Brad Abbey and Michael Oldfield are also vying for spots in the back five.
- Fatima Kdouh
INDIGENOUS ALL STARS 34 V MAORI ALL STARS 14
PONGA'S SWITCH WILL TAKE TIME
Based on the 40 or so minutes Kalyn Ponga played at five-eighth for the Maori the only thing that's certain about the young star's positional switch is it's not going to be an overnight success.
Ponga had a rough outing with several errors and he struggled to inject himself into the match. No doubt he'll be more comfortable in the Newcastle structure he's trained in over the course of the off-season.
But it's worth noting that Ponga has just two senior games in the halves to his name. It could take a full season or more before he's fully comfortable as a five-eighth but the hype machine and frankly impossible expectations levelled at the 20-year old will continue unabated. If Ponga does struggle early, which is not only possible but probable despite his immense talent, will the Knights have the patience to wait out the growing pains?
ROBERTS SHOULD START FOR TITANS
Roberts was a deserving winner of the Preston Campbell Medal and he has the ability and temperament to form a very interesting piece of the Gold Coast spine.
With a well-rounded skill set and a slick kicking game, Roberts is the ideal candidate to partner good mate Ash Taylor in the halves. In 2016 the two produced the best seasons of their respective careers and played a major role in leading the club to their first finals berth since 2010.
Throw in Nathan Peats at hooker, who also played well in this one, and the livewire AJ Brimson at fullback and the Gold Coast will be cooking with gas in 2019.
THERE WILL NEVER BE AN ANSWER FOR PEACHEY
This season will be Tyrone Peachey's seventh season in first grade. He turns 28 later this year. He played lock for the Indigenous All Stars, he played fullback, centre and five-eighth for the Panthers last season.
It seems a safe bet at this point that Peachey will never settle down in a single position but he has the ability to make an impact so long as he's on the field. It remains to be seen how the Titans will use him, but there were flashes in the All Stars match that should give Garth Brennan food for thought.
Peachey was very effective as a first receiver around the ruck and combined well with Roberts and Cody Walker while also setting up a try for Josh Kerr with a deft grubber. Allowing Peachey to play outside of the conventional team structure might be the best way to maximise his unique talents.
- Nick Campton
BRISBANE BRONCOS 42 V SOUTHS LOGAN 0
BOOM BRONCOS READY TO ROLL
The Anthony Seibold era was launched in style with a 42-0 rout and the message is clear - Brisbane has the best production line of young guns in the NRL. If the Broncos don't win a premiership in the next five years, their management will have to ask serious questions. Monster prop Payne Haas, 19, front-rower Tom Flegler 19, and rookie forward Pat Carrigan, 21, monstered the Magpies with their size, fitness and workrate. The 117kg Haas is a future Origin and Test player. His mobility for a big man is remarkable, running like a five-eighth as he crashed over to score in the 43rd minute. Carrigan has the industry of former Broncos ironman Corey Parker while Flegler is an old-fashioned front-rower.
ANOTHER RISING STAR EMERGES
In the backline, a superstar arrived in halfback sensation Tom Dearden. For a 17-year-old, Dearden has maturity beyond his years and natural football instincts. He scored two tries in the opening 31 minutes with show-and-go trickery. It is only a matter of time before he plays NRL.
ADDED DEPTH BOOSTS BRISBANE
Fellow playmaker Cory Paix, 19, was slick, scoring a try in his senior Broncos debut. Jake Turpin was outstanding at hooker and gives the Broncos the perfect back-up to Andrew McCullough. Throw in the likes of Jaydn Su'A and David Fifita and the Broncos are on the cusp of something special.
- Peter Badel
WIGAN WARRIORS 8 SYDNEY ROOSTERS 20
CRONK SOLID IN FIRST GAME BACK
Star Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk will be ready to go for Round 1 after making a successful return from injury to help steer his side to victory.
Playing his first game since his grand final heroics - when he played with a 15cm fracture in his scapula - Cronk was solid if unspectacular.
Cronk, who underwent off-season surgery to repair his shoulder, had a hand in two of Morris' three tries, kicked expertly and combined well with excellent halves partner Luke Keary.
Clive Churchill Medallist Keary picked up where he left off in the grand final, his pinpoint kick for Daniel Tupou's match-sealing try the stamp on another assured performance.
MORRIS MAY FORCE BACKLINE RESHUFFLE
Where does Brett Morris fit into the Roosters team?
The question - posed by Phil Gould on Channel 9 - seems a funny one given the new recruit scored a hat-trick on debut for his new club.
But Morris started at left centre in the absence of Latrell Mitchell, and will surely vacate that position once the Indigenous All Star returns.
Following Blake Ferguson's departure for Parramatta it was expected that Morris would replace him on the right wing, but fellow commentator Andrew Johns tipped a backline reshuffle.
"I think he'll play outside Latrell," Johns said.
That would mean Daniel Tupou switching to the right wing. Wherever he ends up, there's no doubting what the tri-colours have landed in signing the former Test and State of Origin flyer.
"He's going to be a great buy for the Roosters," Johns said.
CRICHTON ON ICE AFTER SHOULDER SURGERY
Fellow star recruit Angus Crichton was left out of the match as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery.
The former Rabbitoh has his sights set on playing the club's final trial, against Manly next month.
"A couple of weeks ago we knew he wasn't going to play and now the focus is getting right for the Manly trial," coach Trent Robinson said.
It's only early days, but the addition of the NSW Blues star to the Roosters pack sends a warning to the rest of the NRL, with Gould tipping Trent Robinson's side will be "extremely hard to beat" as they chase back-to-back titles.
"Whoever beats the Roosters will win the comp," Johns added.
- Dominic Burke