A busy weekend of football both in Auckland and Murwillumbah has answered some questions for the coaching staff regarding team selection in Round 1 of the 2017 season.
While head coach Nathan Brown said only limited information could be pulled from the Nines format, he indicated that the success of certain players in the trial match against the Tweed Heads Seagulls had been noted.
“There were a couple of good performances there, so we’ll have to go over that,” he explained.
“That’ll probably give us more of a genuine indication.”
The final hit-out of the pre-season comes next weekend against the Canberra Raiders, and Brown said this would be the biggest opportunity for players to stake their claim to a spot in the Round 1 team.
“Whether we run with 19, 20 or 21 players, from within that group will be the way we start the year,” he said.
While Brown is yet to review footage from the trial match against the Tweed Seagulls, he identified several players at the Nines that showed how much they have improved since last year.
At the top of his list were the Saifiti twins, who both looked fitter and stronger.
“This year I would expect to see some fairly significant improvement in both boys,” Brown said.
“From what we saw on the weekend, physically they had a lot of people talking.”
When asked whether both twins could start in Round 1, Brown said it was a possibility.
“They did that in the last round of last year against St George and we started that game quite well,” the coach said.
“There’s no reason why they can’t, whether that happens early in the year I’m not too sure.”
Danny Levi was another player that impressed Brown at the Nines, and has been working hard on his game during the pre-season.
“Where he’s at now physically, he’s a far better player,” Brown said.
“He’s worked hard during the pre-season to play more of a team game, and at the Nines I think it was quite evident that he’s made some really good improvements.”
The third player to earn praise from Brown was five-eighth Brock Lamb, who particularly impressive in the first match against the Wests Tigers with two try-assists.
“Brock understands the game very well… I think everyone can see that,” Brown said.
“The big challenge for Brock, like all young halves, is the physical part of it.
“Halves certainly get targeted with and without the ball these days.”
Brown also provided an update on Rory Kostjasyn, who suffered a throat injury almost a month ago.
“Rory will have surgery tomorrow,” he said.
“They’re not sure whether they can do the whole surgery tomorrow… they won’t know until they actually go in and have a look.
“At this stage I’d say it’s highly unlikely that he’d be fit for the start of the year, but we’re just hoping that it’s as shorter term as possible.”