Newcastle Knights coach Rick Stone has approached Saturday’s trial match against the Canberra Raiders in Queanbeyan as a dress rehearsal for the season proper, naming a solid NRL squad he says in an accurate indication of how the team will line up in Round 1.
“You probably need that one game to get a bit of continuity and most of the boys will play at least half to 60 minutes and we’ll go from there,” he told the media on Wednesday morning.
“I want to give a few boys a go, particularly the first half I suppose to get together a bit of continuity with the team that’s a fair chance of playing Round 1.”
One player who has proved his versatility and made his mark in the Knights’ matches at the Auckland Nines and in Wauchope is Tyler Randell, who is likely to have earned himself a spot when the season kicks off.
“I think we need to get our bench organised and Tyler Randell gets his chance there,” he said.
“His form in the pre-season has been really good and he’s trained pretty well.”
However, the coach admits he is still looking to fill a number of positions.
“Probably the make up of our bench with some front rowers and a couple of back rowers and things like that are just falling into spots, I suppose is the last piece of the jigsaw for us,” he said.
The Knights’ depth means Stone is spoilt for choice particularly in the back-line.
18-year-old Sione Mata’utia has been named as a starting centre alongside Dane Gagai with Joey Leilua set to make an impact off the bench.
“I think Sione has probably earned the right at the moment,” Stone said.
“Joey (Leilua) and Gags (Gagai) are obviously terrific players and all three of those blokes are going to play some major time on Saturday.
“There’s no doubt Joey can be an impact player, whether he’s going to play in the back row, I’m not quite sure.
“The purpose that he carries and the intent and how damaging his carries are, he’s going to be a valuable player whenever he gets on the field.
“Where we fit once we get past the weekend, we’ll sort of sit down and have a look at that and see what options we have."
For Stone, Saturday’s Canberra trial provides players a final chance to impress.
“We’ll sit down and have a few of our options when we finish this weekend and see everyone got through and if they’re fully fit and will decide who we have to pick from,” he concluded.