RTS a cautionary tale for code hoppers, heavyweight stars slim down, Reece for Dally M: NRL Week 1 Trials Talking Points


Trials are the necessary evil of professional sport and pre-season form should come with an insurance disclaimer. 

The way players and teams over the past week is not a guarantee of future dividends. 

But for the 16 sides who slogged it out in the summer sun while premiers Penrith gear up for the cooler reception they’ll receive in Wigan, the opening week of the trials provided glimpses to the year ahead. 

RTS returns to splendour  

For all the talk about how adaptable modern league and union players are, ultimately they’re either one of the other. 

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck played rugby growing up but after a decade in the NRL, he was a fish out of water during his two-year union reunion. 

Despite playing at centre for the first time in his NRL career, the 30-year-old was exceptional for the Warriors in Christchurch against the Tigers. 

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is tackled. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

He made 139 running metres, broke three tackles, made a line break and generally looked like the RTS of old. 

When he was a fullback in the NRL his defence was a strong point and now that he’s at centre he will have plenty of opposing line runners keeping an eye on him. 

Tuivasa-Sheck shocked a couple of young Tigers with his front-on hits, rushing up on the left edge to bruise some ribcages. 

Heavyweight stars slim down

It’s the time of year when players predictably claim they’re in the best shape of their careers but there were some noticeably slim physiques in display. 

Latrell Mitchell is never going to be a slender fullback but he needed to get fitter to play at his best in the endurance-based position. 

He looked in great shape as he led the Indigenous All Stars to victory over the Māori on Friday night. 

South Sydney’s title hopes rise and fall on his shoulders and with less bulk on his frame, he should be able to cover more territory to give the Rabbitohs consistent punch from the back. 

Māori hooker Brandon Smith is another whose stocky figure has undergone an off-season trim down. 

The Indigenous All Stars respond with a try from Josh Addo-Carr!

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BLOG https://t.co/44sNYbosWh
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— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 16, 2024

The Roosters invested plenty in the former Storm star and after an underwhelming first season at the club, he needs to prove he’s worth the hefty price tag. 

Dolphins centre Valynce Te Whare was the biggest loser, in the nicest possible sense, of the summer slimmers. 

He was found out several times in defence in his rookie season due to the excess kilos he was carrying but after plenty of hard work, particularly in a boxing boot camp, he looked fit in the second half of the win over the Titans while still retaining his tackle-busting power. 

Running on the last is in vogue 

With the seven-tackle set from the 20-metre restart to be avoided at all costs, teams are running the ball on the last play a lot. 

And this was apparent over the weekend’s trial games with the Steeden going through the hands many times when in previous years it would be dropped onto the boot as a first or second option. 

As long as they’re attacking with gusto then this is a good thing. 

Too often last season teams would virtually concede a tackle near the try line rather than risk grubbering it over the dead-ball line. 

Sexton’s the bomb for Bulldogs 

There has been speculation in the off-season that Drew Hutchison could get the starting halfback gig at Canterbury ahead of Toby Sexton. 

Or that Matt Burton could be shunted to the centres to create space in the halves. 

Sexton showed enough on Thursday night in the victory over Melbourne to seal the No.7 jersey and the former Titans playmaker should be an ideal complementary option alongside Burton. 

It’s hard to judge the worth of a Sexton-Burton combo based on the small sample size following his late-season switch from the Gold Coast last year. 

If Cameron Ciraldo give them time to build a partnership, they could give the Bulldogs’ benign attack some much-needed bark. 

After the revolving door of Kyle Flanagan, Jake Averillo and Karl Olaupu alongside Burton, the coach needs to pick and stick. 

With Stephen Crichton at fullback and Reed Mahoney established at hooker, there is the potential for a strong spine to build the team around if the halves can finally be sorted. 

And Hutchison could easily slot in on the interchange although there is probably more competition for the No.14 jersey after the Dogs loaded up on bench utilities with the acquisition of the former Rooster as well as Kurt Mann, Jaeman Salmon, Blake Taaffe and Connor Tracey. 

The Dolphins hit the scoreboard first. ????

???? Watch #NRLDolphinsTitans on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/9BOE4g7mha
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/N1TDmmz8cQ pic.twitter.com/9hOPtNvtxE

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 18, 2024

New faces add touch of class 

Herbie Farnworth didn’t take long to make his mark at the Dolphins with a try in the first half against Gold Coast. 

His game-breaking ability was sadly lacking from the expansion side last year and with a more mature Tom Flegler bolstering the pack, the Dolphins will be able to compete with the competition heavyweights. 

The down side for them is that they will no longer be underestimated but with Tom Gilbert also back after injury ruined his 2023 season, the foundation is there for Wayne Bennett’s team to sneak onto the finals fringe. 

Aiden Sezer won’t set the NRL alight individually but he added a missing element of game management to the Wests Tigers in his first foray with the club against the Warriors. 

He’s only signed for one year but the club has an option for 2025 as well so if Jayden Sullivan or Latu Fainu don’t command a starting halves spot, Benji Marshall could do worse than keep Sezer around next year as an organising foil to partner with Jarome Luai. 

Broncos continue to extend the margin in the 2nd half.

???? Watch #NRLCowboysBroncos on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/mefClssHjc
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/lsXBJgSQQ6 pic.twitter.com/vXcqYm8hvh

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 18, 2024

Walsh should be Dally M favourite 

He was up against an inexperienced Cowboys opposition but more seasoned defenders still would have struggled to get a grip on Reece Walsh. 

The Brisbane fullback’s blinding acceleration is in a league of its own among some very fast rivals in the NRL. 

And because the Broncos often play the ball out the back to him as he sweeps around either edge, he has that extra bit of time and space to make the most of his pace advantage. 

It’s the stuff of nightmares for edge defenders. 

And it’s a dream scenario for Selwyn Cobbo as he adjusts to life in the centres. If Walsh keeps feeding him the ball on the outside of his opposing player, the advantage will snowball and the Broncos could rack up some serious points in 2024. 

The Kotoni Staggs fella on the other side of the field goes alright too. 

As long as he steers clear of judiciary dramas and teammates like Payne Haas and Adam Reynolds don’t steal too many votes from him, then Walsh could be on track for the game’s highest individual honour at season’s end. 

On the stroke of halftime, Ryan Papenhuyzen does this… ????


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BLOG https://t.co/YCFyMT4icx
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— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 15, 2024

Short and to the point

Ryan Papenhuyzen is a fullback. He broke his leg while filling in off the bench last year as a roving middle forward. Craig Bellamy won’t make that mistake again but it was great to see the mullet flowing in the No.1 Melbourne jersey on Thursday night. Long may it continue without interruption for the 2020 Clive Churchill Medal winner who has played just 30 matches since.

Week two will be a greater guide for many teams. For sides like Canberra, Parramatta, Cronulla, North Queensland and the Gold Coast, they will get a more accurate guide to their team’s chances next weekend. Their coaches rolled out plenty of players who won’t sniff first grade this year so don’t pay much attention, if any, to their results.

Dragons lair won’t be rebuilt in a day.  Or a year in fact. They have decent options in most positions but none that you would call great. Getting Luciano Leilua to the club will be a minor step in the right direction but unlike Shane Flanagan’s previous rebuild at Cronulla, there’s many more local prospects rising up the ranks so once he gets a few big names to sign, there will be a rapid flow-on effect.

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