The Broncos’ issues in the halves were well documented in 2021, and with new captain Adam Reynolds a guaranteed starter at number seven, the battle to be his partner begins this weekend, with Walters getting first crack at it.
The former Storm and Tigers five-eighth has only managed 12 appearances in his NRL career, partly due to some major injuries, but at 28 years-old he won’t get many more opportunities to carve out a starting spot in first grade.
And only time will tell whether being the coach’s son is a major help or hindrance.
It may seem strange to think that the former club captain who sits third on the all-time points scoring table has something to prove, however Croker will need a big game against the Roosters to secure his round one spot.
With the emergence of Seb Kris, Xavier Savage and Matt Timoko all vying for a spot on Canberra’s wing and in the centres, it is no longer a guarantee that Croker will start.
His last few seasons have been underwhelming by his standard, with unrelenting injuries also contributing to his overall decline in form.
A big performance from the veteran may secure his spot for at least this season, however a lacklustre display may see him be forced to watch the next generation from the sidelines.
Not only is Flanagan’s current Bulldog’s contract at risk, but an argument could be made that he is also playing to keep his NRL career alive.
Since being sensationally sacked by the Roosters, Flannagan has struggled to find his feet in this rebuilding Bulldog’s side.
The once highly-touted halfback looked set to prove Trent Robinson wrong when he was given the seven shirt at the Dog’s, however he failed to deliver, which saw him spend a lengthy time out of the squad as Trent Barrett aimed to rebuild his confidence.
With Matt Burton and Jake Averillo the popular picks to be the halves pairing in 2022, Flanagan must seize this opportunity and showcase his ability as an organising halfback – something the Bulldog’s haven’t had since their 2014 grand-final run.
The Sharks have elected to go into their trial with a very inexperienced side giving halfback Braydon Trindall a fantastic opportunity to lock down his spot as Nicho Hynes’ halves partner.
The 22-year-old halfback has made 23 appearances in his two years in the squad, and only played consistently in his preferred postion once the recently departed Shaun Johnson was sidelined with a season ending injury.
If Trindall can steer his young teammates around the park this weekend, it will give coach Craig Fitzgibbon a lot to think about heading into round one.
Gold Coast Titans
After missing out on the race for the number nine jersey Tanah Boyd now has his eyes firmly set on the 14, intent on being the genuine utility.
The 21-year-old normally fills out a spot in the halves for the Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Cup so could provide coach Justin Holbrook some genuine flexibility off the bench.
However, the arrival of experienced utility Will Smith has Boyd on the back foot. With a clear lack of experience in the Titans spine Holbrook may favour the wiser head over his younger counterpart.
But if he can show off his speed and creativity, and be a real game changer off the bench as the forwards tire, Holbrook will be left with no choice but to pick him come round one.
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Manly Sea Eagles
The talented, yet sometimes forgotten brother of superstars Tom and Jake, Ben has the chance to show his talents in an attempt to lock down a spot in the backline or as the utility off the bench.
The 20-year-old made his debut last year, coming off the bench four times and each time showing flashes of brilliance.
This pre-season will be massive for Ben with a chip on his shoulder, the youngest of the Trbojevic’s will need to do a lot on both sides of the field in order to force his way into this deep and talented Sea-Eagles’ side.
Following the highly publicised departure of Brandon Smith, and the controversial nature surrounding the decision, the door has been opened for young gun Harry Grant.
Grant is one of the brightest young talents in the competition, and his playmaking is something that deserves more recognition, as one day it can be held up in lights. Grant was pivotal to the success that Melbourne had in 2021 and it is vital he lives up to expectation again.
Both he and Brandon Smith will both miss the opening rounds of the 2021 season after seperate suspensions, both players who are vying for the number nine jersey will need to be at their best this weekend, in hopes of impressing coach Craig Bellamy.
The latest announcement on Jayden Brailey’s lengthy stint on the sideline following an Achilles injury paves the way for 28-year-old Kurt Mann to fire up on the field in order to secure a spot in the best 17.
Although he’s known as a jack of all trades through previously playing in the backline, as a hooker and lock forward, there are questions on whether he can cement a specialised position in the squad – particularly with talk of big talent including Chris Randall, Jake Clifford and Mitchell Barnett expected for big things during the trials.
A dominant performance during the trials from Mann however, similar to the one had in 2021, can help see the former Dragon nab one of the 17 spots up for grabs.
New Zealand Warriors
With the omission of Shaun Johnson for the first trial, the race for his halves partner will become hotter than ever, with all three of his prospective partners featuring in the game.
However, experienced former Titan Ashley Taylor will look to steer the ship on Saturday afternoon, and show coach Nathan Brown the importance of experience for his team in the halves.
Last season the Warriors struggled with game management, especially late, losing eight games by under six points.
Taylor brings experience in spades but has struggled over recent seasons with being the number one man, which puts his chance this weekend into focus, with the pressure off can he find his best form again?
North Queensland Cowboys
A highlight of the Cowboys squad last season was the young forward talent they had stacked up, and some of that talent saw some increased game time in the latter half of the season, most except Griffin Neame.
The 20-year-old prop featured in three games for the Cowboys, but failed to start on the field.
However, with coach Todd Payten electing to leave most of his first choice forwards out of their first trail game Neame has the perfect opportunity to lay a foundation for the year ahead.
The competition for spot in the Cowboys forward pack will no doubt be healthy, and this game will go a long way in determining where Neame sits in the pecking order.
Many thought that Blake Ferguson’s exit would pave a clear path for young gun Haze Dunster to cement his spot in Parramatta’s side, however with the recent acquisition of Bailey Simonsson it appears that the pair will be fighting for one position.
Both will be playing against the Dragons; however it appears that Dunster may be the one under pressure considering Parramatta’s decision to bring in their new recruit.
Whilst Dunster has shown promise over his short career, he has only scored three tries in 14 appearances, it doesn’t feel like he has guaranteed his position yet.
Simonsson on the other hand has scored 17 NRL tries and averages more running metres per match, with Parramatta potentially opting to go with the more experienced winger considering their current win now mantra.
It appears that the trials may be a direct shoot off for the one position, with Dunster needing to show coach Brad Arthur that he deserves first crack come round one.
Arriving at the reigning premiers, searching to play regular first grade is no mean feat, but that’s exactly what Sean O’Sullivan hopes to do as he returns back to his junior area.
The young halfback has bounced around three clubs in the previous four seasons, but will look to put his best foot forward this weekend.
While the halfback jersey is off-limits, O’Sullivan will be hoping to cement his name as the first halves replacement and possible secure the number 14 jersey in the process.
With some role players departing the club after securing their elusive premiership, O’Sullivan could look to take over the bench utility role and finally find his feet in the league.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
After replacing Latrell Mitchell at fullback in South’s miraculous run to the grand-final last year, Taaffe is now seemingly the odd man out as Lachlan Ilias is highly tipped to replace Adam Reynolds at halfback – Taafe’s natural position.
The rapid-youngster impressed with his performances out of position last year, but was caught out in the grand-final where he made a few crucial mistakes under the high-ball.
Taaffe will likely take up the 14 role under Jason Demetriou, however with a strong showing alongside Ilias, Taafe could easily nudge him for the halfback role.
Taaffe finds himself in a tricky situation with Ilias seemingly a certainty to start in round one, the 21-year-old will need to do something special in these coming weeks in order to persuade Demetriou to go with him as the incumbent halfback.
St. George Illawarra Dragons
Jayden Sullivan exploded onto the scene last year, as the natural halfback filled at hooker for six games and turned heads in the process – gaining a lot of comparisons to Damien Cook
The versatile youngster now seems like the odd man out as his best mates, Tyrell Sloane and Talatu Amone are locks to fill the voids left by Corey Norman and Matt Dufty – at five-eighth and halfback respectively.
However, when the trio of Dragons’ juniors played together last year, their chemistry and feel for the game was outstanding and could be a massive x-factor for the Saints in 2022.
Sullivan needs to continue to display his immense talent in these trial games in order to secure the utility spot over newcomer Moses M’Bye, alternatively he could also force Anthony Griffin’s hand and push Ben Hunt to hooker, leaving the seven jersey to Sullivan.
Having initially decided to retire at the end of 2021 following a successful spell in Super League, the veteran Fiji international made a U-turn to sign a one year deal with the Roosters.
While he’s been brought in primarily as a backup player, if the Chooks suffer even half as many injuries as they did in 2021, he could be seeing a fair bit of action this year.
Naiqama’s stint in the UK was a roaring success, as he picked up three premierships in three seasons, plus the Man of the Match award in last year’s Grand Final, and he’s been tipped in some quarters for a starting spot on the Roosters wing this year, following Brett Morris’ retirement.
After an outstanding spell in Super League, Hastings is back in the NRL for the first time since being dumped by Manly midway through 2018.
Having starred in the UK with Salford Red Devils and Wigan Warriors, and appearing in two Grand Finals, plus being named Man of Steel in 2019, the halfback has been given a second shot in the NRL and he’s being tipped by many to make the Tigers’ five-eighth spot his own in 2022.
A solid showing in the trials match this weekend could be enough to earn him the starting spot when round one comes around next month.