Manly’s Anthony Seibold era has started with a bang as his side won the $100,000 Pre-season Challenge thanks to a second scintillating performance.
The Eels have lost one of their best players, Kalyn Ponga is off to a slow start in the Newcastle No. 6 jersey and the Roosters also have plenty of cobwebs to shake off before Round 1.
Brisbane have found a solution at fullback, the Cowboys young guns keep firing and the Titans finally have a playmaker, while it looks like it’ll be a long year for Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins.
The Rabbitohs big guns are looking the goods, a Dragons youngster endured a tough night and the Panthers are starting to pay the price of success.
Melbourne mean business once again, the Wests Tigers wound back the clock and Ricky’s Raiders already have a selection headache.
The Sharks picked up where they left off and the Bulldogs still have plenty of work to do, just like the Warriors.
Read below for all the big Talking Points from the second week of the pre-season challenge!
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DOLPHINS DEFENSIVE ISSUES
The Dolphins have some serious defensive issues to fix ahead of Round 1 after their edges were badly exposed against the Titans during their 40-16 loss at Kayo Stadium.
Tesi Niu and Brenko Lee were playing in the centres but Greg Alexander believes one of those spots will go to Warriors recruit Euan Aitken.
“This is a team that hasn’t played together before so you can expect some issues in terms of combinations and moving up together and someone coming out of the line to try and solve the problem, but they’ve got to sort it out pretty quick,” Alexander said.
“They’ve got Oliver Gildart, who can play in the centres, Euan Aitken played in the centres last week and Wayne said I’m buying you as a centre even though he played back row for the Warriors last year, but he was their best player last year.
“I don’t know what you do with Euan Aitken, I think he had some defensive problems last week, maybe it’s getting him back into the centres again and getting him used to it.
“Brenko Lee, Tesi Niu, they haven’t played a lot of first-grade in the centres.”
Cooper Cronk agreed it was an area that coach Wayne Bennett needs to urgently address.
“As a defensive edge the centre is the decision maker, the centre is the one who makes the decision and the winger backs his decision up and at the moment Brenko Lee is getting caught all over the place, Tesi Niu on the other side too.
“Wayne Bennett will have to fix that… But (halfback) Sean O’Sullivan has had some nice touches.”
O’Sullivan could end up playing in the halves alongside Isaiya Katoa this season after veteran five-eighth Anthony Milford struggled against the Titans.
TITANS PLAYMAKER FINALLY ARRIVES
Kieran Foran could prove the Titans most important signing in years.
The Gold Coast finally have a veteran playmaker pulling the strings in the halves and it could unlock their side which is full of potential.
Foran set up the first try against the Dolphins and controlled the tempo all night while also allowing halfback Tanah Boyd to shine.
“It doesn’t take long for Kieran Foran to make his presence felt,” Dan Ginnane said on Fox League.
“He sums it up so quickly. He’s so calm,” added Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach.
Foran spoke to Fox League at halftime and said he was pleased with his left edge but emphasised there was work to do.
“Pretty happy with how we started but gee we finished poorly,” he said.
“We did a fair bit of work on (the left edge) throughout the pre-season but you never know how it’s going to go until you go out and test it during a game.
“Things have gone well for us tonight but as we saw in that last 15 if we don’t hold the ball we don’t get down there.”
Cooper Cronk was singing the praises of Foran while Greg Alexander believes hooker Sam Verrills will also prove a pivotal signing.
“I love the touches from the big off-season recruit, Kieran Foran, the first one a nice pass and then toying with them here, setting up another play out the back,” Cronk said.
“I think Sam Verrills will be a great signing, I don’t know how much of a loss he’ll be at the Roosters but I know he’s going to be a real positive for the Titans,” Alexander added.
Foran is expected to be partnered in the halves in Round 1 by Boyd, who the former has compared to Daly Cherry Evans.
EELS LOSE LANE AS MOSES FIRES
Parramatta will be without one of their best players, Shaun Lane, for the opening stages of the season after the second rower fractured his jaw against the Knights on Friday.
The Eels lost gun backrower Isaiah Papali’i (Wests Tigers) in the off-season, and now Brad Arthur has a headache on his hands in the edge forwards.
Lane was taken straight to hospital after trying to tackle Newcastle enforcer Daniel Saifiti who came charging off the back fence.
Lane was first to make contact in the three-man tackle, but he immediately came reeling out of the first-half incident.
“That is a real shame for Shaun Lane, a real star for the Eels in their grand final charge 2022,” Warren Smith said on Fox League.
Meanwhile, halfback Mitchell Moses has one of the biggest contract decisions of his career looming but it’s not impacting his performances.
Parramatta are desperate to re-sign him and have tabled a deal worth upwards of $1 million per season, while the Tigers have tabled a mammoth five-year deal worth $1.3 million-a-year.
Moses was everywhere on Friday night as he orchestrated a dominant victory, scoring eight points and having a hand in two more tries.
BRONCOS STARS MAKE THEIR MARK
Broncos flyer Selwyn Cobbo impressed at fullback against the Cowboys on Saturday night, filling in for Reece Walsh who is in doubt for the season opener with a jaw injury.
It took only seven minutes for the towering outside back to put his name on the scoresheet and Fox League’s Steve Roach likened his effort to that of rugby league legend Greg Inglis.
Inglis was known for his damaging fend and ability to score from almost anywhere, and after collecting a fumbling ball Cobbo looked up and charged to the line, reaching out to score.
“Backs himself, that’s what I like about this guy, he reminds me of Greg Inglis, I think a lot of people will be saying it,” Roach said.
“That is freakish, not many blokes in the NRL would score that try… first time he touches the ball and he explodes.”
Cobbo ran for 123 metres, made six tackle breaks and two offloads to go with his four-pointer.
His teammate Payne Haas also had a blinder and despite playing just 40 minutes, he was still one of the best performers in the game.
The 23-year-old gun wore the captain’s armband in the first half and ran for 98 metres, made two tackles breaks and two offloads with 33 post-contact metres.
Meanwhile, Cowboys backrower Jeremiah Nanai continued his phenomenal try-scoring record against Brisbane.
Nanai scored 17 tries to sit third on the try-scorers leaderboard in 2022 and crossed for another a four-pointer against the Broncos.
OATES REVEALS ‘DO-OR-DIE’ CHANGE BEHIND REMARKABLE RISE
Corey Parker described Broncos flyer Corey Oates’ position at Red Hill as “shaky” a few years ago. The Brisbane winger put it more bluntly.
“Two pre-seasons ago it was honestly do-or-die for me,” an honest Oates told Fox League after Brisbane’s win over North Queensland.
But Oates credited a change in his approach to the pre-season for his stunning turnaround, which included an Origin recall last year for Queensland.
The 28-year-old had 110 metres, two tackle busts and a try in the win over the Cowboys and reflected after the game on the key lessons learned in his road back to the top.
“It was a wise old man a long time ago I didn’t listen to,” Oates said.
“He always said, ‘Look after your body’, and I didn’t listen. Going through those years I just honestly thought I could still do everything I could without doing all the little extra stuff.
“The pre-season was my main focus. Two pre-seasons ago it was honestly do-or-die for me and I just devoted my whole off-season to doing everything I could to making my body feel good, waking up happy and going back to footy and enjoying it.
“To be honest, I haven’t enjoyed playing football more in my life than now. I’m just so happy I can be back playing the game I love and playing at the highest level.
“I just sort of wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and that I wasn’t done and I’m pretty happy but I feel I’ve got so much to offer the club and game.”
PENRITH PAYING PRICE OF SUCCESS
The Panthers were only able to score two tries in the World Club Challenge, and the absence of two players was clear according to Fox League’s Michael Ennis.
Ennis said you could “hardly notice” gun playmaker Jarome Luai without barnstorming edge forward Viliame Kikau.
Penrith recruited both Luke Garner and Zac Hosking who will fight it out for the backrow spot – however, the combination with their playmaker is clearly yet to gel.
“Penrith, we are so used to seeing Viliame Kikau damaging on that left side and unlocking Jarome Luai,” Ennis said.
“Jarome Luai, you hardly noticed he was even there and Luke Garner in his first game for the club, he has carried the ball once.”
Ennis also highlighted the absence of Apisai Koroisau, who departed for the Tigers in the off-season.
Koroisau was one of the most creative and dangerous dummy-halves in the NRL, and it could take time for hooker Mitch Kenny to fill the void.
“Mitch Kenny out of dummy-half, it is a completely different tempo… watching them in that first half it is going to take some time to adjust without those key players,” Ennis said.
KEY TO UNLOCK PONGA AS YOUNG STRUTS HIS STUFF
Kalyn Ponga made his first appearance in the halves alongside his new Newcastle spine consisting of recruits Jackson Hastings and Lachie Miller.
Ponga looked dangerous with ball in hand but failed to stamp his authority on the match, recording only 13 running metres from his 40-minute appearance.
While it is early days for Ponga’s switch, Fox League’s Gorden Tallis believes one man is the key to the club’s success — Andrew Johns.
The eighth Immortal is a member of Adam O’Brien’s coaching staff and Tallis believes he can guide Ponga as he makes the long-awaited switch to five-eighth.
“He is the guy that can spark something for the Newcastle Knights,” Tallis said.
“If anyone can unlock Kalyn Ponga, it is him (Andrew Johns) but I think Kalyn needs to help himself too.
“Does he really want to be that dominant player that we all know he can be in this competition.”
Meanwhile, in demand flyer Dominic Young showed why he is hot property with a blistering run on the stroke of halftime.
The English flyer won the chase to a 70-metre grubber from Jackson Hastings, burning Fijian winger Maika Sivo before he was unable to ground the ball.
Young is off contract after the 2023 season and multiple clubs have put their name in the hat for his signature.
Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins are keen to acquire his services, while Roosters coach Trent Robinson was spotted watching keenly on the sidelined in Gosford.
“No wonder the Dolphins want him, no wonder the Roosters want him,” Fox League’s Warren Smith said.
After scoring an impressive try to open his side’s points tally, Fox League’s Lara Pitt revealed Young would be making a call on his future in the coming week.
“The giant that he is, the much in demand Dominic Young scores for Newcastle,” Smith said.
“He is expected to make a call, possibly as soon as this week,” Pitt said.
SEIBOLD SOARS AS ROOSTERS FAIL TO TAKE FLIGHT
It’s only trials but Anthony Seibold has the Sea Eagles flying heading into Round 1 after dispatching the Roosters on Friday night.
The Roosters started plenty of their stars but they were no match for a Manly side hellbent on scoring, while also standing tall in defence.
Seibold’s side scored five tries as Reuben Garrick crossed for an impressive hat-trick, while Kelma Tuilagi and Tolu Koula also made strong contributions.
“Anthony Seibold looks like he’s got them heading in the right direction and they look a happy group,” Gorden Tallis said on Fox League.
The Roosters have never been known for bursting out of the blocks to start the year but this was a particularly lacklustre performance and with plenty of their best players in action.
Luke Keary was rested and his halves partner Sam Walker was scratched just hours before kick-off, but their opening 65 minutes was dreadful.
It wasn’t until the likes of skipper James Tedesco, Joseph Suaalii and Matt Lodge were off the field until the comeback began.
“It was disappointing, it’s a trial but we wanted to come out and start the year and we didn’t do that, that was pretty embarrassing that first half,” Tedesco told Fox League.
“Definitely things to work on… you want to come out and play perfect but it’s going to be a it clunky, that’s just trials. We didn’t have Keary or Sammy which wasn’t ideal but certainly a few cobwebs.
BUNNIES BIG GUNS DELIVER
Rabbitohs fans will be licking their lips after the club’s big guns gave a taste of what could be in store for this season.
While they did take the foot off the gas in the second half against the Dragons, the first 40 was nothing short of exceptional as they shot out to dominant 26-nil lead.
Captain Cameron Murray and veteran hooker Damien Cook linked up for the first try. Cody Walker started and finished his own try, Latrell Mitchell scored the easiest try he’ll ever get off a scrum and Lachlan Ilias played a hand in Jai Arrow’s try.
Props Tom Burgess and Davvy even got a four-pointer each, while tryscoring freak Alex Johnston showed he’s just as good in defence as he is planting the ball down.
“They’re all firing at the moment,” Fox League’s Michael Ennis said.
“The ball movement has been scintillating for a trial game.
“They all delivered in a powerful start.”
Cody Walker finished the game with two tries, a linebreak, a linebreak assist, four tackle busts and two offloads, while Cook set up two tries, got three linebreak assists and made 17 tackles with one miss.
Murray finished with two try assists, two linebreaks, two tackle busts, an offload and 74 running metres, while also making 19 tackles with zero misses.
Coach Jason Demetriou rewarded them all with an early mark.
SLOAN EMOTIONAL AS GRIFFIN FACES NO.1 CALL
Tyrell Sloan was consoled by Latrell Mitchell at the end of the Charity Shield as he broke down after a tough afternoon at fullback.
Sloan is the Dragons’ first choice No.1 after Cody Ramsey was ruled out for the season due to an illness — but coach Anthony Griffin might have weigh up his options after an error-riddled performance.
Sloan finished the game with three errors, but his first was the most costly.
He knocked-on a Cody Walker bomb and then couldn’t make up for it defensively as the Rabbitohs scored straight off the scrum.
“That’s the part where Tyrell Sloan needs to improve,” expert analyst Cooper Cronk said in commentary.
“Fullbacks these days need to be consistent under the high ball, carry the ball hard and tough, but also marshall the defence. If the Dragons improve this year, Tyrell Sloan is going to have to be the main man defensively.
“I dare say that is Tyrell Sloan’s position to get in across from the back of the scrum. That is poor reaction from the Dragons’ forwards, in particular Tyrell Sloan defending at lock in the scrum.”
Things didn’t get any better for Sloan later in the first half as he dropped another high ball.
“The confidence is gone for Tyrell Sloan, that was the easiest one and (he was) just nowhere near it,” Fox League commentator Dan Ginnane said.
Cronk added: “Fullbacks have got to take these catches.”
Sloan showed some spark in attack as the game went on but his first half in particular will leave Anthony Griffin with a lot to consider.
“He’s improved in different places but he still needs to be more consistent,” Cronk said.
As for Griffin’s other options at fullback, he doesn’t have many.
Sloan’s SG Ball premiership-winning teammate Treigh Stewart got an opportunity in the first trial but still looks a bit off first grade.
Moses Mbye has played 47 games there throughout his career, but he may be called on to play five-eighth while Talatau Amone is stood down.
Then there’s Jack Bird, who spent time in the Dragons’ No.1 jersey in 2021, but he has a knee injury and is no certainty to be right for Round 2.
Rabbitohs star Damien Cook went in for bat for Sloan though in a post-game interview, showing his support for him to nail down the fullback role.
“Sloan was a bit emotional but he’s worked so hard to be where he is at the moment,” Cook said.
“I think he’s a very talented player with a lot of skill and I thought he should have played a lot more footy last year.
“I think he’s going to play a lot more this year and really cement that spot for the Dragons.”
‘GET THAT INTO YOU’: SUPER LEAGUE CHAMP’S ‘HUGE’ MOMENT
St Helens came into the World Club Challenge with four Super League premierships under their belt, and left BlueBet Stadium with another trophy.
The Saints are clearly the most dangerous English club and bested the most dominant NRL club in the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night.
Ivan Cleary’s side have won back-to-back premierships and multiple minor premierships – but are now missing one trophy from their cabinet.
Prop Alex Walmsley was not playing down the significance of the win post-game, describing it as “one of the greatest achievements in our sport” while speaking to NRL.com.
“I am not going to undersell it, this is one of the greatest achievements in our sport – for Super League, for St Helens and for English rugby league,” he said.
“There was probably only the 17 or 18 players, the coaching staff and the 800 fans who came over and supported us who believed in us. I think the rest of the world gave us absolutely no chance at all.
“… There is that massive kind of ‘get that into you’. They have been back-to-back champions, they have been head-and-shoulders the best team in the NRL – the best league in the world – for two years straight. No one has touched them.
“When we are done and we are retired we can say we did something special.”
Corey Parker, meanwhile, said it was a “huge” moment and pointed towards the team’s reaction to the thrilling win as proof of just how much it meant.
“Mention the words monumental, that’s what it is, you see the elation and the pure ecstasy from the team and everyone running in,” Parker said on Fox League.
“The fans who have made their way over to be part of what is going to be one of their club’s finest victories.
“This one would be right up the top, I have no doubts, they came here to play Penrith at Penrith.
“They went through thunderstorms, it was humid, it was hot, it was wet, then you see pure emotion.
“It is a huge victory for them, going back home to the Super League knowing they have knocked over the Penrith Panthers.”
RUGBY CONVERT, ‘TERRIFIC’ BUY PUT ON A SHOW
If there was one clear shining light for Melbourne in an error-riddled performance it was the emergence of two key off-season additions – Katoa and Warbrick.
Katoa haunted his former side, backing up in support to finish off a well-worked play involving Grant and Munster, finishing the game with 103 metres, two tackle busts and a linebreak.
With Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi now at the Dolphins and Tariq Sims working his way back from a calf injury, Katoa has a real opportunity to cement a spot in Bellamy’s first-choice 17.
And the former Warrior did his hopes no damage on Sunday.
“He’s a terrific buy for mine in the off-season, Eli Katoa,” Corey Parker said in commentary.
“He’s got such a future about him. An outside-in line on Dylan Walker. He’s got a bright future – big, athletic, fast, skilful.”
As for Warbrick, the rugby convert is still eyeing his NRL debut after switching codes and continues to impress after another dominant display on the wing for Melbourne.
Warbrick had won an Olympic Games silver medal with the All Blacks’ sevens squad just 18 months ago but is now chasing an NRL dream and made quite the impression on Sunday.
The 24-year-old had 15 carries for 162 metres along with seven tackle busts, two linebreaks and one highlight-reel try as he brushed aside multiple Warriors defenders to score.
“A name to watch in 2023,” said Matt Russell.
“Big and powerful and he rips through the defence. He actually started playing Australian rules football in New Zealand, won silver in the Tokyo Olympics Rugby Sevens and now finds himself playing league and playing well for the Melbourne Storm.
“A couple had a crack at him and made no impression.”
“He’s been terrific in the first two games,” added Parker.
“He’s a big guy, standing up near the two-metre mark, well over 105 kilos, big and athletic, which is so often what you see in the NRL at the moment.”
It followed a solid showing against the Roosters where Warbrick scored another try while adding 92 metres, two tackle busts and a linebreak.
ONE SHINING LIGHT IN ‘GOOD SIGNS’ EARLY FOR WARRIORS
It all started so promisingly for the Warriors, who fell apart late in the second half as the team’s younger, more inexperienced players were given a chance to impress.
But if there was one positive to take out of Sunday’s final hit-out of the pre-season, it was the goal-line defence that saw Melbourne held scoreless in the opening half.
The Warriors maintained a disciplined line speed that frustrated the Storm into errors and showed commitment to scramble on their own line.
“Cooper said pre-game they have to show some starch in defence and they did,” said Michael Ennis on Fox League’s coverage.
“The Melbourne Storm had three sets inside their 20 and they denied them on all three occasions.”
Two instances – one involving former Warrior Katoa and another on Trent Loiero – proved just how determined the Warriors were early to hold the Storm out.
“Really good signs from the Warriors and more importantly Shaun Johnson just to get right up in the face of Loiero, who is just trying too hard to get the ball free,” Parker said in commentary as Johnson forced an error.
“Really good defence again,” he added later as four Warriors defenders, including new recruit Marata Niukore, held out Katoa.
Reigning Dally M Medal winner Nicho Hynes looks set for another massive year after a second straight starring performance.
Hynes was man-of-the-match in the All Stars match last week and backed it up with another sensational display against the Bulldogs.
The classy halfback finished with two try assists and 10 points in his 55-minute shift, while his halves partner Matt Moylan also set up two tries.
“The halves have been fantastic, Matt Moylan who missed last week’s trial game has been terrific, Nicho starred for the Indigenous boys for the All Stars and again tonight,” Greg Alexander said on Fox League.
Cronulla captain Dale Finucane added at full-time: “He played really well tonight and had the ball on a string with his goal kicking too, Daryl Halligan has really done wonders for him in the pre-season so he’s up for another big one.”
Hynes went off in the 55th minute and told sideline reporter Darcie McDonald that coach Craig Fitzgibbon would be pleased with their performance.
“I’m buggered, that was a very, very hot that first 40. We had a bit of a shaky start but we got back into the grind and put some points on,” he said.
“We showed resilience there after they scored that first try. They attacked our line a fair few times there and we defended it well.”
Originally published as Seibold’s Sea Eagles $100k win; Dolphins’ danger signs; Ponga off to slow start – Talking Points