THEY say the best headache for a coach is having competition for spots and for Dean Pay at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs that saying rings true.
Following a comprehensive 22-6 first half trouncing of the Canberra Raiders at Bega on Saturday (February 23) in their only pre-season trial – where both sides played near-full strength in the first half only – it will be very hard for Pay to select Will Hopoate anywhere else but fullback.
Hopoate, the talented former State of Origin winger found a home in the number one jersey in 2018 and impressed to no end. With the arrival of a player touted as a future superstar in Nick Meaney, it was expected Hopoate would move to centre in 2019. Now, I can’t see that happening.
He was extremely active in the Bulldogs first half against the Raiders, setting up multiple busts and assisting in three tries with unbelievable hands that few others in the NRL can match.
It was a joy to watch, as was his floating movement off the ball and presence from the back. Simply put, Pay would now be second guessing whether a move to centre would be like throwing a freshly pressed tux into the back of the cupboard.
Although just a trial, these types of matches often confirm a coaches instincts. But I think a couple of things would have thrown Pay off.
Kerrod Holland impressed at left centre where Josh Morris played for more than a decade, while Christian Crichton (replaced Brett Morris on the left wing) was very stroing.
Raymond Faitala-Mariner returned at second row after missing most of 2018, the position that talented Rhyse Martin made his own 2018 after injury struck the Kiwi powerhouse.
Martin was expected to start on the left flank, but with a fully fit Faitala-Mariner and the arrival of young star Corey Harawira-Naera, Martin may have to come off the bench with Holland taking over the goal kicking duties (sorry, Supercoach players).
Michael Lichaa was solid at hooker but failed to show is running game or an improvement in service that often saw him criticised over the past few seasons despite playing more than 40 minutes against the Raiders.
Dylan Napa was sensational in his first outing in the blue and whites, showing the aggression and workload he will need to produce each week in the absence of David Klemmer.
The final talking point out of the trial was the form of Kieran Foran. In limited minutes, Foran looked very sharp and his combination with Hopoate was on point. He looked slick, took on the line, passed with perfection and barked orders at his troops.
While not expected to do well (with some experts even tipping the ‘Dogs for the spoon in 2019) I think Pay’s men will surprise a lot of people given their talented youth headed by Lachlan Lewis mixed with many experienced heads and a very strong forward pack rife with competition for spots. A spot just inside the 8 isn’t unbelievable.