Tom Trbojevic is working double-time to make sure his connection with new Manly Sea Eagles five-eighth Lachlan Croker produces some sparks.
Trbojevic’s arrival at pre-season training at Manly’s North Narrabeen headquarters was delayed by an extended break after his World Cup involvement with the Kangaroos.
The 21-year-old has slotted back into his fullback role to complete the Manly spine. He has been pleasantly surprised with how well Croker, also 21, has adapted to his new teammates.
”I’ve basically got a big rap on him and all the playing group do. He’s going to be really good for us,” Trbojevic said on Tuesday, echoing the thoughts of coach Trent Barrett, who anointed him as Blake Green’s replacement last month.
Now it’s Trbojevic’s turn to cement all the right links and communication with Croker, just like Manly’s legendary custodian Brett Stewart did with halves Matt Orford, Kieran Foran and more recently Daly Cherry-Evans.
”It definitely takes time and that’s what you’ve got pre-season for,” he said. ”We’ve been training really well together. I obviously missed the first bit but you come in and see the way Crokes and Cherry [Cherry-Evans] have been working together. It just shows that Cherry will be the same player this year and that’s what we need.”
Most of the rugby league world is intrigued how Croker, with one NRL game with the Canberra Raiders to his name, can replace Green, who left for a three-year deal with the Warriors after helping Manly return to the finals in 2017 after two years in the wilderness.
In an interview with NRL.com in January, Croker said he was out to do his best Blake Green impersonation.
“Game management is a big thing because that was Green’s type of game and that’s what Manly needed,” Croker said.
Barrett did not name Croker at No.6 for Saturday’s trial against the Cronulla Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium. It would have been a good test for Croker with former NSW and Australian representative Matt Moylan tipped to partner Chad Townsend against the Sea Eagles. Instead, Jackson Hastings will start at five-eighth with Cade Cust as No.7.
Barrett has rested captain Cherry-Evans and several of his World Cup players including Jake Trbojevic, Martin Taupau, Apisai Koroisau, and Akuila Uate.
Tom Trbojevic, who is also being rested against Cronulla, doesn’t see any problem with Croker slotting in as well as Green did.
”I genuinely think he will. We haven’t played a game with us yet, so we’ll wait and see,” he said.
”He’s good with the ball in his hands. He’s really composed and knows how to get the ball to the right people, at the right time. He’s very similar to Greeny and you’ll see a lot of that in the coming weeks.”
Another hole for Barrett to plug is that left by the ankle and shoulder surgeries that will cause centre Dylan Walker to miss the first month of the Telstra Premiership season. Tom Wright and Brian Kelly were named as the centres for the Sharks trial. Matthew Wright will be fullback.
Another significant injury concern in the Manly camp was Jake Trbojevic and his recovery from the pectoral tear he suffered in Australia’s first World Cup game against England.
”He’s sweet. Back now… all perfect. Training fully,” was brother Tom’s assessment.
So all that remains is to get the season into full swing. Tom Trbojevic is key to that based on his 12 tries – two less than Uate – last year. But the elusive fullback also had 19 try assists. Should he be a little more selfish this year and score some more on his own?
”I didn’t know the figures but I don’t care who sets up the tries or who scores the tries. As long as we score more than the other team, I’m happy,” he said. ”I don’t look into that too much. It will be more about how many games we win this year.”
Manly: 1 Matthew Wright, 2 Brad Parker, 3 Tom Wright, 4 Brian Kelly, 5 Jonathan Wright, 6 Jackson Hastings, 7 Cade Cust, 8 Addin Fonua-Blake, 9 Manase Fainu, 10 Darcy Lussick (c), 11 Jack Gosiewski, 12 Frank Winterstein, 13 Kelepi Tanginoa. Interchange: 14 Shaun Lane, 15 Lewis Brown, 16 Lloyd Perrett, 17 Toafofoa Sipley, 19 Jade Anderson, 20 Taniela Paseka, 23 Peter Schuster, 24 Joey Lussick.