Wests Tigers halves pairing Luke Brooks and Josh Reynolds will have their first opportunity to build on their pre-season combination after being named in the club’s opening trial game against North Queensland Cowboys in Cairns on Saturday.
Brooks is expecting to play plenty of minutes alongside Reynolds as the side attempts to work nine new recruits into a game situation.
Experienced playmaker Benji Marshall was not named in the 30-man squad but is expected to play in the club’s final trial against the Cronulla Sharks at Campbelltown Stadium on February 24.
“It’s going to be important for us because we’re going to have a lot of new players,” Brooks said on Tuesday.
“Hopefully I’ll get a few minutes under my belt and work on that combo with Josh. Usually in the first trial you play 50 or 60 minutes. The last trial I’ll play a bit more.”
Brooks is set to unveil a new approach to controlling the side after Cleary has given the 23-year-old a more dominant role during the pre-season.
“Ivan wanted to change [and have me playing on both sides],” Brooks said.
“It benefitted my game, not being stuck on one side. Nowadays it’s halves either side but we wanted to go a more traditional way. I’m a halfback and Josh Reynolds is a five-eighth. That’s going to help us.”
The joint venture club takes on a Cowboys outfit who will welcome the return of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott from injuries that cut short their 2017 campaigns.
With a difficult start to the Telstra Premiership season ahead, Brooks said facing the Cowboys presented a great opportunity to prepare for clashes against Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta Eels over the opening month of the season proper.
“They [the Cowboys] had a great end to the season without JT. It will be his first game back. I’m not too sure what to expect,” Brooks said.
The squad will depart for a three-day camp in Cairns on Wednesday before taking on the Cowboys at Barlow Park in a match scheduled to kick off at 7.30pm local time.
Cleary has sent a clear message to the playing group ahead of the trial, indicating no position was guaranteed.
“The reality of the first trial is that it’s a great chance for all the players to get out there and get their first run of the new year,” Cleary said. “We’re trying to mix it up and make sure that everyone gets a decent amount of game time under their belt this week.
“It’s no secret that there’s a few positions that are probably up for grabs, so it’s a good chance for the players to put their best foot forward in regards to that.
“These trials are going to have a fair say in what that round one team looks like.”
Squad: Alex Twal, Bayley Sironen, Ben Matulino, Chris Lawrence, Chris McQueen, Corey Thompson, David Nofoaluma, Elijah Taylor, Esan Marsters, Jacob Liddle, JJ Felise, Josh Aloiai, Josh Reynolds, Kevin Naiqama, Luke Brooks, Mahe Fonua, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Matt Eisenhuth, Matt McIlwrick, Michael Chee Kam, Pita Godinet, Robbie Rochow, Russell Packer, Sam McIntyre, Sauaso Sue, Taane Milne, Thomas Mikaele, Tim Grant, Tuimoala Lolohea, Tyson Gamble.