Manly have surged home to defeat Parramatta 28-24 in their NRL trial match at Brookvale Oval on Saturday.
Manly are sweating on a shoulder injury to winger Jorge Taufua after they surged home to beat a Will Hopoate-inspired Parramatta 28-24 in their NRL trial on Saturday night.
It’d been 875 days since Hopoate last set foot on a rugby league field, but it took the Parramatta centre just two touches of the football to suggest he’s ready to pick up where he left off in 2014.
Manly’s stars came to the party in the second half, but it was the Sea Eagles who walked away with the biggest headache, after two-try Taufua was taken from the field clutching his left shoulder.
The powerhouse finisher was attempting to score his third for the match, but the try was disallowed for a forward pass and now he’ll require scans on Monday.
In an otherwise quiet final hit-out, all eyes were on Hopoate in his return to the northern beaches.
Hopoate set up a try just two minutes after coming on in the second half, as the Eels showed early-season promise despite ultimately being run down.
After two years as a Mormon missionary, Hopoate’s first outing with Parramatta was fittingly against the teammates he won a premiership with in 2011 prior to his break.
Hopoate’s catch and pass for Vai Toutai to score and put Parramatta ahead 24-4 was silky, but it was his commitment to defence which was most impressive.
After 24 months out of the game at a key time in his athletic development, there were concerns about how long it might take the 21-year-old to physically adapt to the rigours of the NRL.
Parramatta named close to their best side for their final hit-out, with Luke Kelly set to start the season at halfback ahead of the enigmatic Chris Sandow.
The former Souths playmaker spent as much time at fullback as he did at No.7 but struggled to make his mark when given an opportunity.
Kelly set up a first-half try for backrower Ben Smith with a sharp short-ball, and his halves partner – Brisbane signing Corey Norman – also laid on a four-pointer for Israel Folau’s little brother, John, as the Eels took a 20-4 halftime lead, before Manly’s stars came out for the second.
After dropping the bomb which led to Toutai’s try, Brett Stewart was a standout for the Sea Eagles.
Niggling knee problems hampered his year in 2013, but the signs are bright for the prince of Brookvale as he set up both of Taufua’s tries and also pulled off a stunning try-saving tackle on runaway Eels winger Semi Radradra.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey was happy with his team’s defensive effort but is concerned about his club’s mounting injury toll.
“Jorge came off and I started getting a bit panicky and pulled a few of them off,” he said.
“I didn’t want to risk any more players particularly after the Nines tournament where we lost Dave Williams for a few weeks and Tommy Symonds for a few weeks.
“It’s tough when you get a few injuries at this time of year when you haven’t even kicked a ball off in anger.
“Not sure about (Taufua). We’ll have to wait until Monday for scans but he has got some shoulder dramas.”
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur, also making his return to Brookvale after serving as Manly’s assistant coach last year, confirmed Kelly would be his halfback to start to the NRL season.
There was nothing Hopoate couldn’t do back in 2011, when he made a stunning Origin debut and starred in the grand final.
But Arthur begged for time for his young star with the spotlight sure to be on him when the Eels take on Parramatta in round one.
“He hasn’t done anything in two years so it was always going to be hard,” he said.
“But with his first touch hopefully that gives him a bit of confidence. He came up with a pass for a try and had some tough carries there. They ripped into him and he didn’t shy away from it so I’d say it was a positive start.”