The 2023 NRL Pre-season Challenge

St Helens ccelebrate with the World Club Challenge trophy. Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The 2023 NRL season is less than two weeks away, and as players continue their fight for changes to the collective bargaining agreement, the pre-season is underway.

Return to this page for the latest scores, match reports and any injury news to come out of the pre-season clashes.

Friday, February 17

Eels back-row pain worsens in NRL win over Knights

Ryan Matterson's early-season NRL ban is set to prove even more costly for Parramatta, with Shaun Lane and Matt Doorey both injured in their 36-14 NRL pre-season win over Newcastle.

Already feeling the pinch of a back-row exodus from last season and Matterson's decision to take a three-match ban from a crusher tackle in last year's grand final over a $4000 fine, Parramatta's pain continued on Friday night.

Lane lasted seven minutes in his first hit-out of the year in Gosford before he was left clutching at his jaw after copping a shoulder from Daniel Saifiti while attempting a tackle.

The second-rower was immediately taken for scans, with the Eels' season opener against Melbourne less than two weeks away.

Making matters worse for Parramatta, Matterson's likely replacement Doorey limped from the field early in the second half with an ankle injury.

The Eels are hopeful the injury is not serious, but any setback would be a concern given their situation.

Star backrower Isaiah Papali'i also left for Wests Tigers at the end of last season, while Marata Niukore has moved to the Warriors.

Bryce Cartwright would have been an option to replace Lane if he is out for the start of the season, but he is also battling to come back from a jaw injury.

That could leave Jack Murchie and Jirah Momoisea to join recruit J'maine Hopgood in the back row against Melbourne, if Parramatta receive the worst news on injuries.

The setbacks soured what was otherwise an impressive performance.

The in-demand Mitch Moses did his contract value no harm, putting on one of the plays of the match as the Eels took control of the game in the first half.

Running the ball out of his own half, he dummied his way through Kalyn Ponga and put Dylan Brown over.

Clint Gutherson also scored a try after kicking the ball twice in the lead-up, while Murchie helped his selection chances when he ran onto a ball from Jake Arthur to score.

Ponga's mishap in the lead up to the Brown try came as he missed four tackles in the first half in his return to the frontline at five-eighth before being rested in the second.

But he did manage to put Bradman Best over when he ran the ball out of dummy-half, putting on a short ball for the centre who broke through four defenders to score.

Off-contract Knights winger Dominic Young also scored a try, while Lachlan Miller showed promise at fullback.

-- AAP

Suaalii hurt as Manly go top in pre-season challenge

The Sydney Roosters' NRL pre-season from hell has continued with Joseph Suaalii suffering a head knock in their 28-16 trial loss to Manly.

Down 26-0 midway through the second half, the Roosters put on a brief comeback late in the second half with the majority of their big names back on the field.

But it wasn't enough to overcome an impressive Manly outfit, who all but wrapped up the inaugural pre-season challenge with the win.

The real concern, though, was off the field for the Roosters.

Suaalii was hurt when he got his head in the wrong spot trying to take down Sea Eagles wrecking-ball Haumole Olakau'atu.

The teenage superstar was sent from the field for an HIA and did not return.

Little more than two weeks out from their season opener against the Dolphins, Suaalii joins fellow centre Joey Manu (jaw) in racing the clock to play at Suncorp Stadium.

Luke Keary (jaw) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (back) have also suffered injuries but are hoping to be fit, while second-rower Angus Crichton has taken personal leave.

Connor Watson also suffered a knee injury last month that will rule him out of for the opening months, while Sitili Tupouniua (knee) remains sidelined.

Without Sam Walker due to COVID-19, the Roosters were poor in attack as they completed at 63 per cent.

Manly on the other hand looked slick without three-quarters of their spine in Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans and Lachlan Croker.

Young hooker Gordon Chan Kum Tong was particularly impressive, regularly darting out of dummy-half as he had a hand in two tries.

He signed a new deal to join Manly's top 30 next season, and while he is listed as a development player this year he looks every chance to debut at some point.

Reuben Garrick also bagged two tries on the left wing, with the Sea Eagles' fluent down that side as Josh Schuster playing his first game as full-time five-eighth.

Manly's win leaves them atop the pre-season challenge, one offload short in the win from claiming enough bonus points to wrap up the title and $100,000 prize but still in the box seat.

Only the Warriors, Canterbury or Cronulla could topple the Sea Eagles, if they win, claim all bonus points in their matches this weekend and better Manly's for-and-against.

But there were some minor concerns for Manly, with Morgan Harper limping from the field late with a knee injury and fellow centre Brad Parker receiving two blows to the nose.

-- AAP

Saturday, February 18

Red-hot Rabbitohs whip awful Dragons in Charity Shield

South Sydney's big guns have run riot and exposed a defensively brittle St George Illawarra to canter to a 42-24 Charity Shield win in Mudgee.

The temperature topped 36C at kick-off in regional NSW, but it was the Rabbitohs who were running hot.

Superstar quartet Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Cameron Murray turned on a suite of traditional Souths attacking plays to give their side a 26-0 lead at the break and put the 40th edition of the Charity Shield beyond doubt.

The Dragons have plenty to work on if they are going to challenge for the NRL top eight.

Their best spine combination is still a work in progress and Ben Hunt was their creative best at halfback.

Tyrell Sloan showed glimpses of attacking brilliance at fullback but dropped two easy bombs in the first half.

Moses Mbye and Jayden Sullivan interchanged at No.6 but neither put a stamp on the position.

Mbye looked better when he moved into hooker and Sullivan conjured up a nice try in the second half.

St George Illawarra dominated territory and possession in the first half but came up empty. They lacked ideas, speed and cohesion and made schoolboy errors with the ball.

The Rabbitohs on the other hand were slick and full of strike until they took their best players off for the last quarter of the match.

South Sydney skipper Murray is a master at running off hooker Cook and set up a rampaging Tom Burgess next to the sticks on the back of a pet play that opposition defences still struggle with.

Walker started and finished a beautifully executed trademark left-side play.

Cook set up Mitchell from the back of a scrum for another try.

Half Lachlan Ilias and Murray combined with an outside-inside play for Jai Arrow to score.

They made it look far too easy and that defensive frailty in the middle is a huge concern for the Dragons and their coach Anthony Griffin.

The display of South Sydney's 19-year-old prop Davvy Moale, who scored a rampaging try in the second half, was another boost for coach Jason Demetriou ahead of the round one NRL clash with Cronulla.

Cook said it was mostly a pleasing display as the Rabbitohs aim to win their first NRL title since 2014.

"This year everyone in our second tier has gone to another level and we've had a much better pre-season than last year," he told Fox League.

"I'd like to think what we saw today is a good stepping stone into round one and getting off to a good start. We don't want to be chasing our tail like we did last year to get into the finals."

-- AAP

St Helens defeat Panthers in World Club Challenge

Super League champions St Helens have sealed a World Club Challenge upset over Penrith, beating the reigning NRL premiers 13-12 in golden point.

In front of 13, 873 fans who had to brave an electrical storm at BlueBet Stadium, St Helens became the first British side to win the competition on Australian soil since Wigan defeated Brisbane in 1994.

Halfback Lewis Dodd kicked the winning field goal to seal victory for the visitors.

Spearheaded by mercurial fullback Jack Welsby and veteran hooker James Roby, the Saints became just the third team to beat Ivan Cleary's men at BlueBet Stadium since the start of 2020.

They looked to be heading for victory inside 80 minutes until Brian To'o scored with 90 seconds left.

Nathan Cleary kicked the conversion to tie the game up but a knock-on from Stephen Crichton, who was standing in at fullback for Dylan Edwards, allowed Saints to strike through Dodd in extra time.

The Saints were more than a match for the Panthers.

They opened the scoring when Curtis Sironen made a bust upfield with Welsby flying up in support to go over after eight minutes.

Soon after, the livewire St Helens No.1 stopped Cleary scoring a certain try and his efforts allowed his side to go on the attack.

Penrith withstood some early pressure but there was nothing they could do when Konrad Hurrell barrelled his way over for the English champions in the 15th minute.

Penrith needed a circuit-breaker and it came in the shape of a trademark Cleary bomb, with Will Hopoate knocking on a floating kick.

Things got worse for the tourists when they lost winger and first-choice goalkicker Tommy Makinson to a HIA but they were able to repel a clunky Penrith attack to go in 10-0 up at halftime.

The resumption of play was delayed by 10 minutes due to the lightning but when the second half kicked off Saints were able to add a further two points through a Mark Percival penalty.

The Panthers needed a lifeline and it came in the shape of a smart chip kick from Cleary in the 50th minute.

Welsby flapped at the ball as it went into the St Helens in-goal and Izack Tago scored, with Cleary adding the conversion.

To'o then barged his way over at the death to send the game to golden point.

But it was St Helens' night with Dodd kicking the crucial field goal to send a travelling legion of barmy British fans into a frenzy.

-- AAP

Broncos young halves fire to inspire win over Cowboys

Brisbane's young halves have fired in a 20-18 win over North Queensland to give coach Kevin Walters a welcome headache ahead of round one of the NRL.

With captain Adam Reynolds rested through a back complaint, Walters wanted to see what his young halves had to offer in Saturday's pre-season clash on the Sunshine Coast. They offered plenty.

Last year's Queensland Cup half of the year Josh Rogers came on late to set up the winning try with a pinpoint kick for winger Jesse Arthars to score.

Ezra Mam and Jock Madden had earlier combined well as the starting halves.

Mam, the favourite to wear the No.6 jersey in round one, set up the opening try for Kurt Capewell with a slick grubber.

Madden, recruited from Wests Tigers in the off season, showed his guile to set up two tries from kicks. The 22-year-old impressed with his ball running, talk and defensive clout.

"I knew Jock was always going to be a handful," coach Walters said.

"I like the way he plays, he was good defensively, plays direct and kicked the ball well.

"There was a lot to like about Jock. I was happy with the performance overall."

World Cup-winning prop Pat Carrigan was enormous in the early exchanges with his defence, powerhouse running and ball playing to showcase his development as a player.

Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater was one of the most improved players in the NRL last year and continued to impress with two key try assists.

The Broncos were given a 26-6 lesson by the Cowboys in the corresponding trial last year but muscled up in the first half.

The Cowboys fielded a near full-strength side and it was the class of their key players that shone out.

Star centre Valentine Holmes put the afterburners on to slide past Kotoni Staggs and score.

Drinkwater triple-pumped while in motion to put winger Kyle Feldt over. His second-half grubber for try scoring whiz Jeremiah Nanai was sublime.

They were displays of sheer class that highlighted why the Cowboys, despite too many defensive misses against Brisbane, are favoured to challenge for the NRL title this year.

Walters would also be pleased with the display of Selwyn Cobbo at fullback in the absence of the injured Reece Walsh.

Sunday, February 19

Former All Blacks 7s giant stars as Storm beat Warriors

Melbourne Storm have unearthed a new attacking powerhouse with former All Blacks Sevens star Will Warbrick shining in a disjointed 24-6 win over the Warriors in Christchurch.

The 24-year-old Warbrick, standing at 193cm and weighing 105kg, scored a blockbusting second-half try and made two line breaks while running for a powerhouse 205m in the NRL Pre-Season Challenge clash.

The Storm made 13 errors in the match have plenty to work on ahead of the NRL season opener on March 1 against Parramatta

Melbourne lost 791 games of NRL experience in the off-season with the exits of premiership-winning forwards Kenny Bromwich, Jesse Bromwich, Brandon Smith and Felise Kaufusi.

Getting the starting pack up to speed with that quartet gone is going to take time.

Melbourne signed former Warriors second-rower Eliesa Katoa in the off-season and he showcased his enormous upside with a blockbusting try in the second half.

The Warriors' defence on their tryline was desperate in the first half.

That is a major step forward from last year where they conceded 700 points, the most in the club's history in a single NRL season, but doing it for one half is not going to cut it in the NRL.

New coach Andrew Webster appears to have instilled a much-needed grit into their play after the side lacked the physicality and intent needed in the NRL to succeed, but they still made a shocking 16 errors and started to fall off tackles when the game progressed.

The Warriors made shrewd buys with the acquisition of tough forwards Mitch Barnett, from the Knights, and former Eels firebrand Marata Niukore.

Both are the aggressive no-nonsense and brutal style of players that the Warriors once had on their rosters but have missed in recent seasons.

Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak lit up the first half with a 60m sprint from a scrum where he ran right through the teeth of the Storm defence to give the hosts a 6-0 lead at halftime.

Melbourne guns Harry Grant and Cameron Munster found cohesion in the second stanza that they lacked in the first to provide touches of class to get the Storm home.

-- AAP

Tigers offer hope in NRL pre-season mauling of Canberra

Tim Sheens' new-look Wests Tigers have given fans reason to believe after a decade of dread, entering the NRL season on the back of a 36-4 trial win over Canberra.

After 11 years out of the finals and seasons of misplaced hope, the Tigers will enter the season with confidence after completely outplaying Canberra.

With Luke Brooks and Apisai Koroisau out, five-eighth Adam Doueihi had his fingerprints all over the win, days after signing a one-year extension at the club.

The Tigers had a similar trial win over Manly in 2021 before another year of pain, but Sunday's performance at least suggested this is a team capable of far more than last year's wooden spoon.

Despite the points, what would have impressed Sheens most was the defence.

The joint-venture were the second-worst defensive team in the NRL last year, and conceded 42 points in one half against the Raiders in the final round of last season.

But after a summer of talk about attack, Sunday's success was built on the back of early resilience without the ball.

The Tigers turned the Raiders away repeatedly early in the match and rarely looked like breaking on their own line.

"I'm not saying we're going to be an iron wall or something," Sheens said.

"But we will be tougher in that area than we have been, in so far as just getting into the right positions.

"They can tackle, but defence and tackling are two different things. (Assistant) David Furner has worked really hard on the defence."

Canberra's only try came from long range, when Jamal Fogarty and Matt Timoko combined down the right edge and Nick Cotric kicked back inside for Danny Levi.

Then the Tigers were able to take their chances with seven straight tries.

One came when Doueihi put on an excellent ball for Tommy Talau to run onto, while another was off the back of a 40-20 from the five-eighth.

Doueihi kicked for another when Raiders winger Elijah Anderson failed to clean up a ball in his own in-goal and David Nofaluma capitalised.

The pick of the Tigers' tries was a length-of-the-field effort, when Brandon Wakeham and Junior Tupou linked up from within their own half and Asu Kepaoa finished the job.

There was one concern for the Tigers, after winger Ken Maumalo limped from the field early with a knee injury and is in severe doubt for round one against Gold Coast..

Canberra have bigger worries.

Last year's finalists have lost both pre-season matches to perennial strugglers in Canterbury and the Tigers.

And while the majority of their big names missed last week against the Bulldogs and Sunday against the Tigers, they have hardly made a statement.

Jordan Rapana could also be in hot water over two high tackles. He was placed on report for a shot on Kepaoa before being sin-binned for another hit on Doueihi.

Rapana had been playing on the wing, with Sebastian Kris at fullback and Xavier Savage out with a broken jaw.

-- AAP

Sharks make statement in trial win over Bulldogs

Cameron Ciraldo's Canterbury makeover has been handed a pre-season reality check in a 36-16 defeat from a dominant Cronulla in their last pre-season trial.

After claiming Canberra's scalp in Moruya last week, Canterbury were completely outplayed by a Sharks outfit that fired in attack and held firm in defence on Sunday.

The excitement about the Bulldogs in 2023 was shown clearly in the 7801 fans who turned up to Belmore, for which only Tevita Pangai was missing from their likely best line up.

But ultimately the only real bright spot for new coach Ciraldo and his Canterbury team came in the second minute, when recruit Viliame Kikau scored.

Even that joy was spoiled 13 minutes later when he suffered a head knock trying to tackle Sione Katoa and was immediately ruled out of the game.

The powerful second-rower now has less than two weeks to recover in time to face Manly in the opening round.

Hayze Perham also had a difficult outing in his first game in the Bulldogs No.1 jersey, as he made two early errors and later failed to clean up a ball in his own in-goal.

He wasn't alone though, as Ciraldo's men completed at 63 per cent for the game and Bulldogs fans were forced to wait until the 68th minute for their side's next points.

Fan-favourite Josh Reynolds also claimed a late try in his return to Belmore, after receiving a standing ovation on taking the field.

Bulldogs hooker Reed Mahoney insisted the scoreboard was not an accurate reflection of his side's loss.

"We got a lot right at the start and the effort was really good," he said.

"It was just a few minor things, defending last play and our kick selection on last play, we put ourselves in a position where we had to defend too much.

"There are plenty of learnings for us ... I don't think the score really outlined it."

Cronulla showed they can be a genuine force again after also beating Newcastle with an understrength side last week.

Nicho Hynes and Matt Moylan were dangerous in attack, easily outplaying Matt Burton and Kyle Flanagan as they both set up two tries.

Teig Wilton and Siosifa Talakai looked back to their best on the Sharks' left, after being among the most dominant edges in the competition through the first half of last year.

Winger Ronaldo Mulitalo was also powerful down the left, as he and Wilton each bagged two tries.

The win didn't quite allow the Sharks to claim the pre-season challenge, with their three offloads not enough to take maximum points from the match.

That has left Manly as the inaugural champions and winners of the $100,000 prize.

"I was unaware until too late," coach Craig Fitzgibbon said of the offloads.

"For our club, that ($100,000) would have been fantastic ... but we were too late. "

Fitzgibbon said he did not want to "change the mentality of the team" by urging them to chase offloads.

"We have a bigger picture at play here, and that is playing our footy," he said.

Titans destroy dire Dolphins as Foran stars

Gold Coast winger Alofiana Khan-Pereira had a hat-trick of tries inside 12 minutes as marquee No.6 signing Kieran Foran excelled to ruin the Dolphins' first ever home match and deliver the new NRL club a stark lesson.

Khan-Pereira later crossed for a fourth time as the Titans thrashed the Dolphins 40-16 in the NRL Pre-Season Challenge clash at Redcliffe's Kayo Stadium in what was a poor display by the home side.

The Dolphins have been written off in most quarters ahead of their inaugural season and this performance will only amplify the voices of the nay-sayers.

The mantra of "Put your 'phins up" boomed relentlessly around the stadium to 7206 fans before kick-off but it was the Titans who were up for the match.

The lack of defensive resolve early by Wayne Bennett's team was a huge concern. The Titans were playing up-tempo footy from the start and the Dolphins lacked cohesion.

The top squad has only trained together for six weeks but the Dolphins have a huge task ahead to be ready for the NRL season kick-off against the Roosters in a fortnight.

Dolphins captain Jesse Bromwich said the side "played like a team that had our first game together".

"Of course we need to be better," he said.

"We are not really happy with the way we performed. Our edge defence was pretty leaky at times ... and we'll work hard to make that better."

Gold Coast will enter the season with great hope. The signing of 2011 premiership winner Foran was always going to give them more direction, but his impact was astounding.

The Kiwi international has thrown thousands of over-the-top cut-out passes but his first to Khan-Pereira was wonderfully precise. Foran combined with centre Phil Sami and rampaging second-rower Beau Fermor for the flying winger's second and third tries.

Dolphins halves Anthony Milford and Sean O'Sullivan had nervous starts, with both making errors.

O'Sullivan failed to get his foot to a short kick and giant Titans back-rower David Fifita raced away to set up winger Jojo Fifita for a try. Dave then sent Jojo over for his second to give the Titans a 24-0 lead inside 24 minutes.

Dolphins hooker Jeremy Marshall-King put a bellringer of a tackle on Titans half Tanah Boyd to dislodge the ball and winger Jack Bostock scored. There was a lesson there for the Dolphins, one they barely heeded in the second half as the Titans made hay.

The form of Dolphins fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, and the nous of teenaged half Isaiya Katoa, when he came on, were bright spots in an otherwise forgettable display.

Bromwich said Tabuai-Fidow was a "special talent" and would only grow better at fullback.

-- AAP

Thursday, February 9

Warriors impress in big preseason win over Wests Tigers

The Andrew Webster era in New Zealand has begun with a comprehensive 48-12 victory over Wests Tigers as the Warriors kicked off their 2023 preseason trial matches impressively.

New recruits Luke Metcalf and Te Maire Martin dazzled at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium as the Warriors ran in nine tries to two on Thursday night.

New coach Webster's side amassed 14 points in the NRL's new preseason challenge, just shy of a maximum 15, as all NRL clubs chase $100,000 through their two trial matches.

They did so behind Metcalf and Martin, who joined the Warriors from Cronulla and Brisbane respectively in the off-season.

Martin found Marcelo Montoya to bag their first try off a long-range cut-out pass and the Warriors went back-to-back when Jackson Ford barged over from a quick play-the-ball.

Martin's left edge in attack had the Tigers scrambling not long after and Montoya bagged a first-half double when he shoved Charlie Staines into next year before dotting down.

It was a dominant first half showing from the hosts who completed 11 of their 13 sets for a 14-0 lead at the break while their opposition struggled to get any momentum, coughing up five penalties.

Metcalf found a defensive hole early in the second to score from 40 metres then the five-eighth's split second catch-and-pass set up Montoya for his hat-trick.

Wests responded with some flashy offloading that saw Trey Peni score their first try and they were back in the game when Stefano Utoikamanu barged over.

But another error in midfield handed Viliami Vailea a runaway try before Moala Graham-Taufa, Vailea and Solomon Vasuvulagi all scored late to hammer home the Warriors' dominance.

Martin dished two try assists and three line assists with Metcalf breaking the line three times to go with his solo-effort try.

"We excecuted well on what Webby (Webster) wanted us to do and Luke Metcalf ran the team around really well," Martin told Fox Sports.

"Hopefully we can see Lukey in the open space because he runs faster sideways than some of us run forward.

"We got to see as his pace on display tonight so that was good to see."

Edward Kosi produced strong carries out of the Warriors' own end while Tom Ale led their metres gained with 144.

For Tim Sheens' Tigers, 20-year-old Fonua Pole showed promise through the middle and skipper Utoikamanu led their running metres.

"It was pretty shocking I think, our defence was pretty poor," the Tigers captain said.

"We played a pretty young team so we can't expect much from that. The only thing we can do is move on to next week and just focus on what we need to improve moving to the next game."

-- AAP

Friday, February 10

Sharks down Knights in NRL trial win

Cronulla have warmed up for 2023 by seeing off Newcastle in a 28-16 NRL pre-season trial win in Gosford.

The Sharks were without their starting spine but Craig Fitzgibbon's men still looked cohesive as they gear up for another strong season after finishing second on the ladder last year.

The win means Cronulla secured 14 points from a possible 15 in the NRL's new pre-season challenge as NRL clubs chase a $100,000 prize for winning their two trial matches.

Things are not looking so good for Newcastle and their head coach Adam O'Brien, whose side struggled for spark and were flattered by late tries to Phoenix Crossland and Luke Pietzner.

The Knights made 19 errors across the 80 minutes.

Off-season recruits Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble started in the halves but were not able to stamp their mark.

Kalyn Ponga, who is expected to partner Hastings in round one, remains out with injury and watched on from the sidelines at Industree Group Stadium.

Cronulla looked strong when their defence was tested and the only time they let up in the first half was when Gamble crossed for a seventh-minute try.

The Sharks had opened the scoring through winger Thomas Rodwell and continued to make the Knights suffer with young halfback Niwhai Puru pulling the strings.

The unheralded Puru, who signed to the Sharks from Penrith over the off-season, looked assured alongside Wade Graham and set up Mawene Hiroti for his side's second.

Big Sharks prop Tom Hazelton crashed over just before halftime after a solid effort through the middle where he ground out 123 running metres.

Hazelton only played one game last season but looks set to take on a much bigger role following the retirement of Aiden Tolman and Andrew Fifita.

Daniel Atkinson, who only signed for the club this week, got a try after halftime when he grubbered behind the Knights line and beat Newcastle fullback Bailey Hodgson to the ball.

Crossland and Pietzner crossed for the Knights in the last 10 minutes to gloss over a disappointing display before Sharks prop Josh Finau crashed over on the last play of the game.

-- AAP

Manly snatch narrow NRL trial win over Souths

Manly have begun life under Anthony Seibold with an entertaining 30-28 NRL trial win over South Sydney.

The Sea Eagles kept their hopes of claiming the inaugural NRL Preseason Challenge title - and the $100,000 prize that goes with it - as they collected 14 points from a possible 15 with the end-to-end win.

Neither side was at full strength, with most of their big names watching from the stands at Gosford's Industree Group Stadium.

There were a couple who pressed their case to Seibold and his South Sydney counterpart Jason Demetriou.

Young Manly winger Raymond Vaega grabbed a tryscoring double inside half-an-hour, while fullback Jake Toby set up three tries and bagged two of his own.

Cooper Johns laid on two try assists and kicked three goals in his first Manly outing.

"I'm enjoying having a lot of responsibility playing with a younger team," said Johns, who is expected to be Daly Cherry-Evans' understudy this year.

"There's a lot of talent and there's a real focus on being connected and our group is coming together really well."

For Souths, Blake Taaffe showed his class as he scored a try and set up another while playing at five-eighth.

Taaffe is expected to assume the bench utility role vacated by Kodi Nikorima after his move to the Dolphins.

The 23-year-old scored the try of the night when he put up a high ball, gave chase, and waited for winger Richie Kennar to bat the ball back into his arms and touch down.

Dion Teaupa crossed twice for the Bunnies in the first half while dynamic forward Zac Fulton barged his way over the line for Manly.

With the scores tied at 24-24, Manly got the upper hand when centre Leon Te Hau was sinbinned for a dangerous throw on Fletcher Myers.

On the ensuing set the Sea Eagles made them pay with Cameron Brown darting over in the corner and Johns converting.

Jarrett Subloo hit back for the Rabbitohs while they were down to 12 men but the former Canberra playmaker was unable to slot the conversion, allowing Manly to walk away with the win.

"I was very happy with Blake tonight," Demetriou said.

"There were some areas that let us down tonight, so we'll get some lessons from that and obviously fatigue plays a part with it being your first hit-out.

"We've got a lot of work to do defensively, but we're happy where we are at."

-- AAP

Saturday, February 11

Young stars shine as Penrith down Eels in NRL trial

Penrith's youngsters have warned the NRL the Panthers' dominance might continue for a while yet, beating Parramatta 22-16 in a trial game with just one of their grand final heroes in the lineup.

Fielding a number of players from last year's NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg-winning sides, the Panthers showed their future remains bright.

Among the Panthers stars was winger Jesse McLean, who celebrated his recent upgrade to the 30-man NRL squad with an impressive try, chasing down a loose ball and gathering his own grubber.

Of those on the field, only Jaeman Salmon, Zac Hosking and Sunia Turuva are expected to feature in the Panthers' round one side, with Turuva set to fill in for winger Taylan May who is serving a two-game ban.

Second-rower Mavrik Geyer, another depth option to impress with a flick pass setting up the match-sealing try, said the players had been keen to live up to the club's high standards.

"(Coach Ivan Cleary) just told us to keep it simple, it's a good opportunity for us young blokes to play some big minutes in a tough game," he told Fox Sports.

"When you're training with the likes of Liam Martin, Nathan Cleary running at you, trying to defend their shape, it only makes you a better player.

"(Ivan Cleary) doesn't care who you are, as long as you put a Penrith jersey on he makes sure you have a crack and the standards go throughout the club."

Penrith's lineup featured just one player, Salmon, from their grand final winning outfit, with the big guns expected back for next weekend's World Club Challenge against Super League champions St Helens.

Parramatta started with gun back-rower Shaun Lane and forward Ryan Matterson, who will sit out the first three games of the season through suspension.

Matterson was close to the Eels' best player, running for 115m, while former Wests Tiger Zac Cini made the most of his opportunity with 115m and two tries.

Headline off-season recruit Josh Hodgson -- who tore his ACL in the opening minutes of the 2022 season with Canberra -- played his first game for Parramatta but did not make much of an impact outside of throwing an interception Penrith returned for a 95m try.

"We just blew the cobwebs out and played some footy, there's nothing too concerning really," Lane said.

"We've got another trial next week and a bit more time to get things right come round one.

"The difference in our game this year is probably going to come through our defence ... if we get that right and get towards the top one or two teams in the league ... that's where we can hopefully go that one step further."

Panthers hooker Luke Sommerton opened the scoring with a dummy-half dash, while young centre Tom Jenkins sprinted the length of the field after picking off Hodgson's pass for a try of his own.

The contest was far from high quality, with errors littered throughout a match played in sweltering conditions in Sydney's west.

-- AAP

St Helens down Dragons in World Club Challenge warmup

Super League champions St Helens have tuned up for next week's World Club Challenge against Penrith by beating St George Illawarra in an NRL trial game.

They showed flashes of brilliance in Saturday's 30-18 win that will encourage them they can take it to the NRL premiers next weekend, highlighted by a stunning display from winger Tommy Makinson.

The result was not the start to 2023 the Dragons were after, having been expected by many to prove the NRL's superiority despite finishing 10th in the last campaign.

St Helens captain James Roby admitted his side would need to find an extra gear to match the powerhouse Panthers next Saturday.

"That's the preparation we need, we know next week is going to be another level," he told Fox Sports.

"It's a huge occasion, and all our middles ... they need to get that contact in.

"It's a long way to travel over here and it was our first hit-out, first time against NRL opposition ... the game was great for us.

"Australia doesn't get to see St Helens play week in, week out. We know what we're about and we want to show that."

The Panthers will need to be wary of Makinson. The winger looked a class above in scoring a try, assisting another and coming up with 152 metres of dashing runs the Dragons defenders struggled to cover.

St Helens had all 17 of their players from last year's grand final and started at a blistering pace, scoring two tries in the first 10 minutes.

Halfback Lewis Dodd scored the opener, before Jack Welsby crossed minutes later after a brilliant flick from Makinson.

St George went with their first-choice back five to start the contest while Moses Mbye played at No.7.

They are looking for a round one halves partner for Ben Hunt, with emerging five-eighth Talatau Amone stood down over an alleged hammer attack.

Jayden Sullivan, the leading No.6 option in Amone's absence, is battling a hamstring injury that has him racing against the clock to be ready for the season-opener.

"(There's a) few things for us to work on, we've had a few errors there and we didn't execute what we wanted to but it was a good trial, we ironed out a few creases," Mbye said.

"We've got a few dramas in the halves at the minute. I've played there before ... I was brought to this club for that role, to cover a few positions.

"They were a really good outfit ... they'll struggle against the Penrith boys over here though."

Forward trio Jacob Liddle, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Nick Lui-Toso all had their first runs for the Dragons after signing in the offseason.

Young fullback Treigh Stewart, currently on a train-and-trial deal with the Dragons, turned in an eye-catching display with five tackle busts and 95m to complement a stunning first-half try.

-- AAP

Sunday, February 12

Olam injured in Storm's NRL trial loss to Roosters

Melbourne have been handed a fresh injury blow with star centre Justin Olam set for a stint on the sidelines with a suspected fractured arm.

Olam barely made it five minutes through their 32-24 loss to the Sydney Roosters before he left the field clutching his arm after taking early contact.

The Roosters looked a class above the Storm's youngsters after their big guns entered the game for the second half, scoring two quick tries before digging in to seal the win after they'd conceded two against the run of play.

The Storm said they were certain Olam had fractured his forearm, although he'll head for X-rays to confirm the damage.

It's not what they needed with gun fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen already likely to be missing round one with a hamstring injury, although captain Christian Welch and centre Reimis Smith did make their return to the side.

Welch had just three runs in a limited stint on the field but found two offloads, while Smith was also quiet in his short outing.

The Roosters made sweeping changes for the second half, bringing on frontline stars Sam Walker, Victor Radley, Matt Lodge and Egan Butcher along with hooker Brandon Smith for his first run for his new club.

Smith looked fired up against his old side with a number of heavy hits and sharp dashes out of dummy-half, while he also contributed a try assist.

The hooker only played a small stint in the second half and admitted he'd need to build his gas tank when asked if he was ready to play 80 minutes at No.9.

"Not right now I don't, I was stuffed after 15 minutes," he told Fox Sports.

"I've still got plenty of room for improvement, I was a little bit shaky ... still getting used to all the play names and I haven't trained the last three days.

"(Preseason is about) what we've learned in preseason and going out there and trying to execute it so we can take it into the real season.

"We were pretty poor tonight, we played against all their young fellas and they really gave it to us so we've got a lot of room for improvement."

Winger Jaxson Paulo also made an instant impact after joining from cross-town rivals South Sydney, scoring with a stylish try early in the second half.

Their depth options had impressed early and took an 18-12 lead to halftime, forward Elie El-Zakhem scoring an eye-catching try by busting three tackles before Tyler Moriarty and Will Fakatoumafi also crossed.

A length-of-the-field effort from Sua Fa'alogo was the Storm's best second-half moment, the young fullback catching the eye in a 205m, four tackle bust and three line-break display.

Tyran Wishart, Grant Anderson and Will Warbrick scored their other tries, while Sydney's Junior Pauga scored late to seal the win.

-- AAP

Ciraldo starts Bulldogs era with win against Canberra

Canterbury have made a fast start to life under new coach Cameron Ciraldo, taking down Canberra 34-18 in an NRL trial game.

The Bulldogs looked much improved despite gun players Josh Addo-Carr, Villiame Kikau and Matt Burton sitting out, scoring four first-half tries in the impressive display in Moruya.

While the Raiders got into the game late when the Bulldogs went to the bench, Ciraldo was thrilled with the display and said it showed standards were lifting across the club.

"I liked how hard we worked, that we worked together ... they were just excited to get out there and play," he told Fox Sports.

"We've put our own systems in place, just tried to put some standards to what we're doing and to the boys' credit they've bought right in.

"They've attacked it with 100 per cent and come together as a group, which has been the best thing and the most important thing."

Hooker Reed Mahoney made an instant impact on club debut as did lock Ryan Sutton, who powered over for an early try against his former side.

Mahoney dominated proceedings around the ruck and came up with two try-assists, with his distribution getting the Bulldogs flowing forward during his time on the field.

Veteran Josh Reynolds was in action after his recent upgrade to a top-30 contract, but their youngsters also looked the goods.

Nineteen-year-old centre Paul Alamoti, who's a chance to start round one, grabbed a try while 21-year-old second-rower Jacob Preston was dynamic running for 94m and scoring a try of his own.

Hulking prop Franklin Pele also showed his considerable potential with a bruising 88m, five tackle-bust game off the bench.

"Franklin added a lot off the bench and I was really happy to see him do well," Ciraldo said.

"(Reynolds) just loves it ... he loves wearing the blue and white. If our team can have a bit of Josh Reynolds in it then we'll have a good season."

But it was a worrying start for the Raiders, looking unorganised early with a number of errors and set restarts stopping them from building any momentum.

Backup halves option Brad Schneider grabbed a try and an assist, with Ata Mariota the best of the forwards.

Captain Jarrod Croker, playing his first game since returning from a season-ending shoulder injury last year, said they'd need to blow some cobwebs out.

"It was a typical trial where someone lost the ball and got on the backfoot early and defended for most of the game and that was us," he told Fox Sports.

"I'm not gonna lie, it was good to be back. It's been a rough 18 months."

Making matters worse for the Raiders was an injury to young gun fullback Xavier Savage, who left the contest with a jaw injury and will head for a precautionary X-ray.

-- AAP

Cowboys and Dolphins play out NRL preseason draw

North Queensland and NRL newcomers the Dolphins couldn't be separated over 80 minutes in Cairns as the sides began their preseason trials with a 22-22 draw.

Cowboys winger Laitia Moicedreke crossed for his second try on Sunday with 30 seconds remaining after the Dolphins took the lead through Mason Teague seven minutes from time.

But Zac Laybutt's sideline kick to win the game was shanked off the tee and the new Queensland rivals will settle their differences when they meet again in April.

The next generation of Cowboys players gave coach Todd Payten plenty of food for thought following strong showings at Barlow Park.

Tom Chester looked composed and comfortable at fullback after earning his first NRL cap late last season off the bench.

Chester's defensive line management early in the contest thwarted a shaky and less fluid Dolphins side still dusting off some cobwebs before the NRL season begins next month.

He slotted in at centre midway through the second half and ended in the front row with Payten clearly keen to see how the utility manages defending different positions across the park.

"That's exactly why we were doing it," Payten said post game.

"His quickest route barring injuries is through that utility role, so we're trying to cover a few bases with him and get him some experience in the centres -- which he hasn't had a lot -- and playing in the middle, too."

Payten's top 17 for round one is close to complete but the coach still has questions over the bench utility role with Chester and veteran clubman Jake Granville in the conversation.

The fullback followed his own grubber kick midway through a hot and humid first half and batted the ball to Robert Derby for the winger's second try in 40 minutes after earlier running 97 metres off an intercept.

Derby, a Cairns local junior, had all 6922 in attendance cheering him home as the Cowboys took an 18-10 lead into halftime following an earlier try to Moicedreke.

Jack Bostock crossed first for the Dolphins and Lachlan Hubner had their second a few minutes before the break.

They were right back in the contest when Brenton Baira soared onto the end of Anthony Milford's kick for a try, then both sides slugged it out heading into the final stages.

A deft inside pass by Isaiya Katoa seven minutes from time found Hubner, and Teague scored what looked to be the matchwinner for the Dolphins before the final minute madness.

Tonga international Katoa slotted in nicely alongside experienced playmaker Milford for the Kristian Woolf-led side, with head coach Wayne Bennett not travelling for their first trial.

Katoa will certainly have his hat in the ring for round one if Bennett opts to pair his flare with an experienced half in Milford or Sean O'Sullivan.

"He's got enormous potential," Woolf said.

"He showed that playing for Tonga at the end of the year and he's showed that in the last two trials.

"There's no doubt that he's a first grader and he's going to play plenty of first grade."

-- AAP

Walsh stars for Broncos in 24-all draw with Titans

Reece Walsh has hummed like a Ferrari in attack and his talk on the tryline in defence stamped his worth as a fullback of class in Brisbane's 24-all draw with Gold Coast.

Titans captain and halfback Tanah Boyd was also outstanding.

Boyd showed why coach Justin Holbrook has entrusted him with the first shot at the No.7 jersey this year as he controlled play. He also landed four conversions from as many attempts and was the reason why the Titans fought back from a 24-6 deficit.

Broncos coach Kevin Walters would have been licking his lips watching Walsh save two tries in the opening quarter of the NRL Pre-Season Challenge clash on the Sunshine Coast in front of 4605 fans.

Defence is the area of Walsh's game that Walters wanted him to focus on, and he delivered. His communication and kicking game was outstanding, securing a 40/20 early in the second half.

It was just the 20-year-old's second game in Broncos colours. He played a trial against Wynnum-Manly in early 2021, before linking with the Warriors for two seasons and then returning to Brisbane.

"It was a good hit-out from Reece in his first game for the Broncos in a senior game for us," Walters said.

"He is obviously one of the guys we have brought into the squad to improve us.

"I thought he did some good things and there are some areas in his game like most of our boys, that they need to work hard on to get better.

"He has got good speed across the ground and good vision, there is no doubt about that."

Walsh ran for 105m with two line breaks, six tackle breaks and a try before coming off with a minor head knock in the 55th minute.

His wizardry was on show in the fifth minute when his dazzling feet and speed bamboozled the Titans defence and he carried three defenders over the line with him.

A pinpoint Boyd bomb set up a try for impressive winger Jojo Fifita to level it at six-all.

Boyd controlled play with a masterful kicking game, but the Broncos skipped away to lead by 18 at halftime with new signing Marty Taupau in blockbusting form at prop.

Tristan Sailor, son of Broncos legend Wendell, conjured up the try of the night with a stunning cross-field kick on the run for winger Jordan Pereira to haul it in and score his second try after a Walsh break had led to his first.

The Titans roared back in the second half with winger Alofiana Khan-Pereira scoring a double and Vaka Sikahele crossing for a try after the Broncos took their big guns Herbie Farnworth, Kotoni Staggs and Payne Haas off the field.

-- AAP