Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has intimated a number of positions are still up for grabs with trial form to be a major factor in who runs out against Manly in the opening round of the NRL in six weeks.
For the first time since taking over as coach, Brown has some welcome selection headaches looming thanks to a far healthier playing roster.
And after several fringe players performed strongly during an intra-club trial at the newly refurbished Maitland Sportsground on Thursday, he warned no-one could take their spots in the team for granted.
“I think it’s fair to say at this stage there are some players who simply can’t afford to coast along thinking they have a spot sewn up,”Brown said.
With the exception of former Roosters duo Aidan Guerra and Connor Watson, who didn’t feature in the opposed session due to slight injuries and Daniel Saifiti, Mitch Barnett and Dylan Phythian, who are coming back from off-season surgery, Brown had his full senior squad involved in the hit-out.
And while the trial lacked the full-blooded defensive intensity of an NRL game, the depth in the squad was noticeable with the Knights second-string side finishing the stronger and raising a few eye-brows among a healthy crowd that turned up to watch.
It was another opportunity for new recruits Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga to work on their combination in match-like conditions with Pearce and Brock Lamb combining in the halves in the absence of Watson.
Hookers Danny Levi and Slade Griffin were regularly interchanged in the number one team, indicating Brown is leaning towards taking both into the first round clash against the Eagles.
But if Brown is wavering on a few positions in his top 17, he was given some food for thought by the likes of forwards Josh King and Luke Yates, who both impressed from the second team.
Young frontrower Pasami Saulo was another of the fringe contenders to stand out.
The club’s depth in the halves was also evident with Trent Hodkinson and Jack Cogger heavily involved while utility Jack Johns was arguably among the best performers from either side.
Brown said the inter-club hit-outs, which have also been held at Charlestown and Toronto, are an ideal way to build combinations given the number of new players at the club.
“It’s also a way for us to interact with the fans. We have had a lot of kids and their parents turn up to watch us already which has been great,”he said.
Knights players were full of praise for the pristine playing surface in Maitland.
I think it’s fair to say at this stage there are some players who simply can’t afford to coast along thinking they have a spot sewn up.- Coach Nathan Brown
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