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Wrap of NRL trial matches

By AAP .
23 February 2014 06:16AM EST

NEWCASTLE, North Queensland, the Wests Tigers and South Sydney all recorded NRL trial match victories on Saturday night.

Newcastle will consider playing Darius Boyd at five-eighth in a revamped backline after losing star playmaker Jarrod Mullen during the week to a serious hamstring injury.

The Knights romped to a comprehensive 34-10 NRL trial win over Canberra in Tamworth on Saturday night, with centre BJ Leilua starring with two tries.

Coach Wayne Bennett pulled a selection shock by switching Dane Gagai to fullback and trying Queensland State of Origin regular Boyd at five-eighth.

Bennett famously turned Darren Lockyer from a No.1 into a No.6 and Boyd could be his latest experiment.

However, captain Kurt Gidley came on in the final 20 minutes and played exclusively at five-eighth to suggest he's the frontrunner to replace Mullen in the halves, who will miss up to four months.

Halfback Tyrone Roberts was strong for Newcastle at halfback, and after re-signing with the club for a further two years this week, he'll be set for a major jump in responsibilities following Mullen's demise.

The No.7's kicking game was sharp during his time on the field and it will need to stay that way when the season proper kicks off in a fortnight's time, given Mullen has one of the best left-boots in the game.

Roberts set up Akuila Uate for a first-half try with a pin-point kick, as the Knights went to the break with a 12-10 lead.

Bennett has plenty of options in the halves, with Michael Dobson also spending time in the middle.

Canberra played their stronger side in the opening 40 minutes, and Jack Wighton appears a frontrunner to wear the No.7 under new coach Ricky Stuart after spending time in the halves alongside Terry Campese.

Wighton has played the majority of his young career at centre or wing, but Stuart believes he has the game smarts and kicking game to succeed closer to the action.

The 21-year-old played five-eighth when coming through the grades in the under-20s competition and a nice kick set winger Edrick Lee up for the Raiders first try.

Canberra forward Paul Vaughan was another standout up front for the visitors, while Josh McCrone and Glenn Buttriss both put their hands up for the vacant hooker position with strong efforts.

Newcastle forward Zane Tetevano suffered a hand injury and forward Jeremy Smith was taken off as a precaution with a bump on his knee.

IN-DEMAND NSW and Australian prop Andrew Fifita raised his asking price with a typically barnstorming display in Cronulla's 28-22 trial loss to Wests Tigers on Saturday night.

Fifita, who is off contract at the end of the season and reportedly in the sights of NRL rivals South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters, reminded everyone why he's the game's most prized signature by scoring the Sharks' first try with a trademark fend of Adam Blair.

He also had a second try denied for being offside, and laid on a try for Sam Tagataese with a right-handed flick pass in a 65 minute effort.

Despite the strong interest, Fifita said he was in no rush to weigh up the offers.

"I've just changed managers so I will wait until he gets it all on paper," Fifita said.

"I will have a look at them and do what is best for my family. The Sharks have been very good to me and made me into the person I am today.

"I arrived here as part of a package deal. I will always be thankful to them no matter what I decide to do because they got me to where I am today."

While Fifita's form is encouraging for the Sharks, coach Peter Sharp will nervously await results on a suspected fractured cheekbone suffered by halfback Jeff Robson.

The steady half, and foil for flashy playmaker Todd Carney, faces six weeks on the sidelines if scans confirm the Sharks' fears.

The Sharks, missing key men in Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Carney and Beau Ryan, enjoyed the better of possession in the opening 20 minutes with several attacking raids inside the Wests Tigers quarter including halfback Jeff Robson losing the ball over the line, before picking up a jaw injury.

Fifita's try, and an 80 metre intercept try to rising Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks, were the only highlights in a scrappy first half that saw the scores locked at 6-all at the break.

Cronulla took a 10-6 lead when veteran winger Eric Grothe Jnr defused a 10-6 lead off a cross-field bomb by five-eighth Daniel Holdsworth in the 45th minute.

Wests Tigers' second try came against the run of play when winger Marika Koroibete swooped on a grubber kick to race 85 metres to score. Pat Richards converted for a 12-10 lead to the visitors.

From there Wests Tigers, who were missing a host of NRL stars themselves, produced some of their trademark razzle dazzle resulting in consecutive tries to Chris Lawrence, Richards, and Keith Lulia for a 28-10 lead after 67 minutes.

Fifita then put second-rower Tagataese over before Nathan Stapleton scored from a knock-down in the dying minutes for the 28-22 scoreline.

NORTH Queensland's perfect pre-season is complete with the Cowboys beating Gold Coast 28-12 on Saturday night in front of a packed house in Toowoomba.

The Auckland Nines champions welcomed back World Cup stars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Brent Tate, but all the focus was on who would win the coveted fullback jersey left vacant by Matt Bowen (Wigan).

With Lachlan Coote cut down with an ACL injury from the Nines tournament, the Cowboys packed four fullbacks into their trial squad.

But Zac Santo, Javid Bowen and Matthew Wright struggled to find minutes with Michael Morgan impressing so much that he didn't leave the field until the 59th minute before returning to score the match-winning try.

Morgan's first involvement was outstanding, tested with a high ball and promptly smashed into the turf when he gathered it in, he sprung from the turf and put a fend on Brad Tighe to dash 40m upfield.

He was then involved in a slick left-side play, with winger Antonio Winterstein coming close to opening the scoring, before a dusty Thurston cross-field kick was batted back by fellow Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt for Tariq Sims to score.

Santo also pressed his claims, solid under the high ball and throwing a superb long pass to put Winterstein over in the corner in the 67th minute.

Queensland and Australian prop Scott also impressed, playing big minutes in his first match of the year while Thurston ultimately warmed up with a hand in three tries and four conversions.

Paul Carter was busy at hooker for Gold Coast, the son of former Penrith great Steve putting a case forward for round-one inclusion.

First-choice Titans rake Matt Srama (shoulder) and Beau Falloon (hamstring) sat out the trial.

Carter, 21, set up the first Gold Coast try when he took on the line in the 21st minute, sucked in three defenders and popped a clever offload to put Greg Bird in beside the sticks.

Sam Irwin also played well at hooker in his return from an ankle injury.

Coach John Cartwright tried a range of centre and wing combinations following the off-season departure of Jamal Idris (Penrith), with former Cowboy Kalifa Fai Fai Loa a late inclusion with recruits Maurice Blair (Melbourne) and Brad Tighe (Panthers).

The Titans bombed three genuine opportunities, halfback Albert Kelly twice spilling the ball with the line in sight.

Jason Taumalolo helped the North Queenslanders to a halftime lead, latching onto a Thurston short ball to crash through the line and run 20m to score.

Glenn Hall extended the lead in the 47th minute, his converted try pushing the score out to 16-6.

Mark Ioane edged the Titans back to within four points in the 51st minute, crashing in under the posts for a converted try. But Winterstein answered with his late try, converted from the sideline by Thurston.

SOUTH Sydney showed they have playmaking depth aplenty, while St George Illawarra will sweat on a knee injury suffered by star fullback Josh Dugan, after the Rabbitohs pounded the Dragons 38-20 in the Charity Shield.

The Rabbitohs scored seven tries to four and piled on 26 unanswered points to lead 38-4, before a Dragons revival in the last quarter of Saturday's clash at WIN Stadium .

It was the biggest team score by either club in the 31 Charity Shield games and Souths captain John Sutton tormented the Dragons with his silky skills.

Moved to halfback in the absence of the injured Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary, Sutton, who was earmarked to play at lock this season, set up several tries.

He linked well with five-eighth Dylan Walker, who suffered a corked ankle.

However coach Michael Maguire was optimistic Walker and Reynolds would be fit for the Thursday week's opening NRL clash with the Roosters, along with fullback Greg Inglis, who came off following a head clash with Dragons prop Dan Hunt early in the second half.

"I thought Dylan and John did really well today, so we've got options there if it doesn't come right," Maguire said.

"But we're expecting that he (Reynolds) should be okay."

It was a far cry from the 2012 preliminary final when Souths lost their way against the Bulldogs after Reynolds hobbled off the field in the first half.

"As a team, we were probably not prepared back then, but if we get an injury, every boy has filled in in certain roles and for every scenario," Souths forward Sam Burgess said.

Englishman Burgess, who refused to talk about his 2015 switch to rugby at the end of the game, also showed his playmaking skills with a great cross-field kick that set up the Rabbitohs' opening try to Beau Champion.

"It was pretty lucky," said Burgess, who joked he had taken over the tactical kicking duties form Reynolds.

His brother George was one of seven different try scorers for Souths and he left Dugan limping after the huge Englishman crashed on top of the fullback in scoring Souths seventh try.

Dragons coach Steve Price said he won't know the extent of the injury till a scan on Monday, though Dugan indicated on Twitter that it could be a lateral ligament strain - putting him in doubt for the early rounds of the season.

Price lamented the Dragons defence in the ruck area and the failure to capitalise on early pressure.

Leeson Ah Mau and Trent Merrin both went close to scoring as the Dragons had the first three sets, with Champion scoring from the Rabbitohs' first foray into enemy territory.

"At the start of the game I thought they were a lot more physical than us, and we just couldn't control that ruck at the start of the game," Price said.

"As we started to warm into the game I thought we got better, but we've got to do that better from the outset."

He was encouraged by the form of Ah Mau, and backs Adam Quinlan, Michael Witt and Peter Mata'utia.

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