After a long off-season the countdown to the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership race is on, with a mouth-watering weekend of rugby league.
However there are still a number of unknowns hovering over the teams as they scramble to finalise their combinations ahead of Round 1.
Foxsports.com.au brings you the burning questions ahead of this weekend’s NRL trials, the All Stars clash and the World Club Challenge between the Roosters and St Helens.
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1. Will Latrell Mitchell be a success at fullback?
The most talked about rugby league player this off-season will finally get the chance to let his footy do the talking in the All Stars clash.
A move to South Sydney from the back-to-back premiers and arch rivals the Roosters has given Mitchell the opportunity to chase his dream of becoming a first grade fullback.
In the Indigenous All Stars clash with the Maori All Stars, Mitchell will begin his positional transition in his first competitive match in the No.1 since switching clubs.
Mitchell has copped criticism from all parts that he doesn’t have the fitness and work rate to succeed in the game’s most aerobically demanding position.
Andrew Johns believes he is an out and out centre, while Braith Anasta said he needs to work on his involvement off the ball to become a standout in his new position.
However Mitchell has received support from many good judges, including club coach Wayne Bennett and Indigenous coach Laurie Daley.
No one is doubting Mitchell’s incredible skill, size and speed, with Maori opposite Kalyn Ponga sure that the Rabbitohs star recruit’s athleticism will ensure he is a success at the back.
Time will tell, but one gets the feeling Mitchell is raring to go to prove the doubters wrong in the All Stars clash and give us a glimpse of what is to come at the Rabbitohs in 2020.
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2. Will the Tigers solve their hooker crisis?
The uncertainty surrounding Storm youngster Harry Grant and his bid to join the Tigers is causing a headache for coach Michael Maguire.
The NRL blocked a swap deal with Tigers centre Paul Momirovski, but James Hooper reported that Grant may still request a release from Craig Bellamy as part of a loan arrangement with the Concord based club that excludes Momirovski.
It means the Tigers go into their trial against the Panthers on Saturday night, with their hooker still unknown weeks out from Round 1 of the Telstra premiership season.
Robbie Farah’s retirement and Jacob Liddle’s injury have tested the Tigers’ depth in the all-important hooker stocks.
Josh Reynolds has been cleared to play by the NRL and is expected to spend time at dummyhalf, while Billy Walters is also expected to split time between rake and five-eighth.
Club captain Moses Mbye has trained in multiple positions in the off-season, including centre and hooker and will be another option at No.9.
Whoever puts their hand up against the Panthers will go a long way towards securing the role in Round 1, particularly if Grant can’t secure a release from the Storm.
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3. Will Valentine Holmes and Scott Drinkwater shine in new-look Cowboys backline?
It was the big conundrum facing Cowboys coach Paul Green as soon as North Queensland signed Valentine Holmes from the NFL.
How to fit Scott Drinkwater and Holmes in the same side? Drinkwater was signed in the middle of the 2019 season from the Storm when the Cowboys were unsure if Holmes would return to the NRL from the New York Jets.
Both players’ preferred position is fullback, but Holmes was always favoured to get the No.1 jersey given his success in his final season at the Sharks in 2018 where he scored 22 tries in 26 games.
Drinkwater may be more comfortable at No.1, but signs during the pre-season and at the Nines suggest he could make a very good five-eighth.
Club skipper Michael Morgan is a lock for one of the halves positions, with Drinkwater and his halfback against the Broncos Jake Clifford vying to partner the Origin star at the scrumbase.
How Clifford, Drinkwater and Holmes fare against Brisbane is expected to decide the make-up of the Cowboys’ spine for Round 1.
4. Will the Broncos’ new spine fire or falter?
The make-up of the Broncos’ spine for Round 1 has been a topic of fascination since they were belted by the Eels to end their finals run last year.
Anthony Seibold has abandoned plans to shift Darius Boyd to five-eighth permanently and Anthony Milford will not be the club’s fullback after a brief switch last year.
The acquisition of organising halfback Brodie Croft from the Storm will allow Milford to play to his strengths at No.6, which is based on playing eyes up footy and taking opportunities with his running game.
Jake Turpin will start the trial against the Cowboys, with Andrew McCullough not in the squad this week after playing in last week’s trial.
Jamayne Isaako was touted as a possible fullback option in the off-season, but he finds himself on the bench for the Queensland derby.
Jack Bird will start his second game in a row in the No.1 jersey and if he can get through unscathed looks set to land the role for Round 1.
It will take time for combinations to form, but just how far the Broncos go in 2020 depends on their new spine clicking.
The Broncos have the forwards to match or better any team in the competition, even accounting for the loss of Matt Lodge.
But they need their spine to play a lot better than they did in 2019 and it all starts against the Cowboys.
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5. Will Angus Crichton be the answer the Roosters’ centre problem?
Latrell Mitchell’s departure to join the Rabbitohs and Billy Smith’s injury has thrown the Tri-colours centre stocks into chaos ahead of their premiership defence.
Brett Morris is an option, but his best position is on the wing, so Angus Crichton has come from nowhere to start in the No.3 jersey in the World Club Challenge.
Roosters’ coach Trent Robinson was reluctant to put too much pressure on his new centre by suggesting he will take a game by game approach starting with the St Helens clash on Sunday morning AEDT.
The two major question marks hanging over the Roosters’ bid for a unthinkable three straight titles is how Kyle Flanagan goes replacing Cooper Cronk and who fills Mitchell’s big shoes.
Crichton played in the centres in rugby union during his schoolboy career and has the ball skills to make a success of the switch.
His defence too is first class, so the Roosters could even make gains in that area in Mitchell’s absence.
But attack is where Mitchell’s loss will truly be felt, with his ability to score and create tries at will as well as kick goals.
If Crichton fails then the Roosters will be hoping the Sharks release Josh Morris to join his twin brother at Bondi sooner rather than later.