Pressure on stars at trials
TRIALS for the 2014 NRL kick off at the weekend and during the next month a handful of players who are virtual unknowns now will more than likely be eyeing off a much bigger pay cheque as a result of their pre-season form.
Most coaches regard trials as necessary evils. Statistics tell us that some players - maybe even a superstar or two - will be injured and miss vital NRL games. Others, such as Titans prop Matt White last year, might well suffer season-ending injuries.
For coaches, trials help to gauge yardsticks. Putting new combinations under the microscope is the No.1 goal, while evaluating fitness, testing game plans and formalising defensive patterns are beneficial by-products.
But those with the most to gain - or lose - from trials are the players. A good off-season training regimen followed by impressive trial form can sling a player into an NRL career, as happened to Jack Reed in 2011. The non-contracted Reed impressed the Broncos so much during the pre-season that he not only won a contract, but played all 27 NRL games that season. Players who have joined new clubs will appreciate the trials, among them Lachlan Coote at the Cowboys, Jamie Soward (Panthers) and the much-vaunted Warriors signing Sam Tomkins. The pressure on these guys is immense.
Will Hopoate, returning from a two-year Mormon mission to strap on the boots for the first time since he starred for Manly in the 2011 grand final, is under no illusions about the blowtorch which has been applied to him at new club Parramatta. And rookie Tigers halfback Luke Brooks, already tagged the next superstar of the game, is another on a hiding to nothing. But my main interest will be the off-season progress, and attitude, of a couple of big names who were huge disappointments last season. We can hear and read as much as we like about their new-found commitment and how well they have trained, but evidence during the trials will be telling.
And No.1 on my list is Chris Sandow. The little halfback moved from the Rabbitohs to Parramatta at the end of the 2011 season on big money, and his career - mirroring the Eels - has bombed. Reports regarding his pre-season are positive and indications are that he is free from his off-field problems and his swagger is back.
And that is great news, not just for Eels fans but for the rugby league-loving public. It might be a line from a 1920s song, but when Chris Sandow smiles, the whole world smiles with him. Others under the spotlight are Dave Taylor, Ben Barba, Jamal Idris, Robert Lui and Tony Williams. Their fall from grace in 2013 was alarming and for them, make or break is just around the corner.