This Saturday will be a learning experience for nib Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown, as he tests out his top 17 in the Club's trial match against the Parramatta Eels at Maitland's No. 1 Sportsground.
It's just over two weeks until the much anticipated Round 1 kicks off, and the trial will be a chance for players to state their case as to why they should land a spot in the opening clash against the Manly Sea Eagles.
And with both sides set to field close to their strongest outfits, Brown maintains it’s shaping up to be a great contest that will help determine his Round 1 selections.
“A good performance this week can help people start the year in first grade,” Brown said after training on Tuesday.
“There’s no doubt we’ve got some younger players who we feel are better than they were this time last year and we’ve recruited players who are a lot more experienced and have achieved a lot more... so there’s going to be a lot more competition.
“There are some spots that we’re pretty settled on and one average performance is not going to dictate team selection (in Round 1).
A good performance this week can help people start the year in first gradeNathan Brown Head coach
"But on the other hand, for a lot of our younger players that have had an easier run into first grade, they need to understand to be a good first grader you’ve got to play consistently well for long periods, week in week out.”
For those who don’t get a start in first grade this weekend, there’s still a chance they’ll make a brief appearance towards the end of the game.
“We will name 17 and then the rest will play Reserve Grade,” revealed Brown.
“The last 15 minutes we’ll probably make a fair amount of changes, where for a good 50 to 60 minutes, we’ll have a main stable 17 and then whichever guys played really well in Reserve Grade might get some first grade time.”
Brown acknowledged that with tickets selling out and the prospect of Parramatta bringing a strong side to town, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the match.
“Parramatta was a top four side last year and obviously Jarryd Hayne always brings plenty of media attention,” he explained.
“Parramatta has named a very good side and we’re excited about moving forwards as a Club.
“Maitland is a great ground, we’ve trained out there two or three times and if it’s not the best country ground around, it would be in the top couple.
While fans will get a first glimpse of some players making their return from injury, others will miss out.
“Daniel (Saifiti) and Tau (Tautau Moga) will definitely play but Barny (Mitch Barnett) more than likely won’t,” Brown said.
“If it was a grand final or a competition game, we’d probably think about it, but it’s looking like he’s probably a week short.
There is also some doubt as to whether fan favourite Sione Mata’utia will take the field.
“It's just a minor knee issue with Sione Mata’utia, which has just flared up,” explained Brown.
“I wouldn't say he is a 100 per cent certain starter, but if he gets through training well tomorrow he’ll hopefully play.”