The nib Newcastle Knights are back in action on Saturday evening against the St George Illawarra Dragons in their first trial ahead of the 2020 NRL season.
New coach Adam O’Brien has named an extended squad featuring off-season recruits and young guns eager to press their claims for time in the top grade.
Saturday evening marks the third consecutive year the Knights have hosted a trial match in Maitland.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS V ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Date: Saturday, February 22
Location: No. 1 Sportsground, Maitland
Time: 5.30pm (NRL)
Tex Hoy, Hymel Hunt, Enari Tuala, Tyronne Roberts-Davis, Gehamat Shibasaki, Edrick Lee, Matt Soper-Lawler, Starford Toa, Mason Lino, Kurt Mann, Mitchell Pearce, Simi Sasagi, Bayden Searle, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Aidan Guerra, Brodie Jones, Sione Mata’utia, Jirah Momoisea, Jayden Brailey, Luke Huth, Chris Randall, Mitch Barnett, Jack Cameron, Mathew Croker, Tim Glasby, Zac Hosking, David Klemmer, Brandon Russell, Daniel Saifiti, Jacob Saifiti, Josh King, Matt Cooper, Dylan Lucas, Mitch Black
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
Euan Aitken, Eddie Blacker, Adam Clune, Mathew Feagai, Max Feagai, Jackson Ford, Tyson Frizell, Luke Gale, James Graham, Ben Hunt, Jacob Host, Tim Lafai, Blake Lawrie, Hayden Lomax, Zac Lomax, Joe Lovodua, Corey Norman, Jordan Pereira, Mikaele Ravalawa, Jason Saab, Tristan Sailor, Shaun Sauni-Esau, Tariq Sims, Jayden Sullivan, Paul Vaughan, Brayden Wiliame, Tyran Wishart.
Having made the move to the Hunter over the off-season, new signings Jayden Brailey, Enari Tuala and Gehamat Shibasaki will get their first tastes of the red and blue on Saturday evening.
Heading north following three successful years with the Sharks, look for Brailey to enhance his reputation as an 80-minute hooker equally adept with and without the ball in hand.
Penning a one-year deal to bolster the club’s backline stocks, former Junior Kangaroos speedster Tuala will be keen to hit the ground running after showing plenty of potential with North Queensland.
Shifting from Brisbane after being offered the chance to establish himself in the NRL with a three-year deal, Shibasaki will have his sights set on locking down a place in the team to take on the Warriors in three week’s time.
AN EYE TO THE FUTURE
Only 17 players can make the final cut for round one, however a strong showing on Saturday evening will ensure the remaining members of the NRL squad stay in contention for selection as the season goes on.
While trials are often viewed with a level of scepticism, they frequently provide clubs with the chance to unearth players of the future as evidenced by Starford To’a in the corresponding fixture last year.
Showing plenty of class with a solo effort against the Sharks twelve months ago in Maitland, teenage speedster To’a went on to make his first grade debut in the final match of the season after impressing in the trials.
THE O’BRIEN ERA
Returning to the 13-aside format following a promising showing in the Nines last weekend, coach O’Brien will be eager to assess the depth at his disposal ahead of the season opener.
Serving an impressive apprenticeship with the Storm and Roosters as an assistant, the rookie head coach will have a close eye on a number of positions as he looks to mould the Knights into a side capable of challenging for the premiership.
Watch: O'Brien reviews pre-season
Including uncapped players Jirah Momoisea, Brodie Jones, Tex Hoy and Mat Croker in the 34-man squad, a strong showing against the Dragons could see O’Brien put established players on notice by naming a bolter in the team to take on the Warriors.
TRIALING FOR A CONTRACT
All 16 clubs are required to fill 29 of 30 positions on their NRL rosters ahead of round one - the Knights currently have three vacant positions.
Training and trialling with the club over the pre-season, outside backs Tyronne Roberts-Davis and Matt Soper-Lawler will be out to impress on Saturday evening as they vie for an NRL contract.
Providing plenty of attacking spark as part of Burleigh’s premiership winning squad last year, goal-kicking winger Roberts-Davis boasts plenty of speed along with NRL experience at the Titans (7 games between 2017-18).
Returning to the Hunter following three seasons with Souths Logan and Sunshine Coast in the Intrust Super Cup, prolific try-scorer Soper-Lawler will be looking to emulate his impressive strike rate (52 tries in 67 appearances) in order to achieve his dream of debuting in the NRL.
The Knights will stream the NRL trial on newcastleknights.com.au from 5pm.
Grandstand tickets are $20 for all ages and General Admission tickets are priced at $10 for adults (18+) and youth (13-17 years) and $5 for children (4-12 years). Children aged three and under are free.
To purchase tickets, click here!
Gates open: 1pm
Jersey Flegg kick-off: 1.30pm
Canterbury Cup kick-off: 3.15pm
NRL kick-off: 5.30pm