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Scott Bailey

Pain washes away for 'still speedy' Bulldog Xerri

Bronson Xerri made a try-scoring return to action in the Bulldogs' pre-season clash with Melbourne. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Four years out of the game have not slowed Bronson Xerri down, with the Canterbury flyer adamant he can recreate the lightning speeds he reached before his drug ban.

Xerri felt four years of pain wash away on his return for the Bulldogs on Thursday night, scoring a try in their 24-12 pre-season win over Melbourne.

The 23-year-old admitted he felt more nervous running out than ever before - including his debut for Cronulla against Parramatta as an 18-year-old in 2019.

It hardly showed, with Xerri making a case for the Bulldogs' left centre spot with 161 metres, a tackle bust, and an assist for winger Jeral Skelton.

Bronson Xerri scores a try for Canterbury in a pre-season game v Storm
Returning Bulldog Bronson Xerri scores his cathartic comeback try against the Storm. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

A second-half try of his own left Xerri emotional as he completed his comeback from a ban for steroid use.

"All the dark times in those four years came back to me," Xerri said.

"It was unreal. There were a lot of nerves and I was very emotional running out there and seeing my family.

"That was the most nervous I've ever been. The team and the coaches prepared me ... to come out and play my best.

"I always knew there would be a bit of rust, but I'm just happy I got through."

A renowned flyer coming through the juniors, Xerri showed bursts of his electric pace in his rookie season, including torching Penrith with a long-range try in his fourth game.

Xerri did not watch football during his ban, and had to be educated on the NRL's new rules during the pre-season.

He did spend time working with sprint coach Roger Fabri, and believes he is as quick now as he was in 2019 when he ran 100 metres in 10.8 seconds.

"I'm the same," Xerri said.

"I've also put on five kilos, because I was 18 when I was playing in the NRL back then. I was 94 then, and I'm sitting at 99 right now.

"I've definitely still got my speed."

Xerri will face his former club Cronulla next Friday, and offered a "no comment" when asked about coming up against his ex-teammates.

His best chance of playing in round one against Parramatta is if Stephen Crichton claims the No.1 jersey ahead of Blake Taaffe, leaving Connor Tracey and Xerri in the centres.

Otherwise, Xerri and Tracey will be fighting to join Crichton in the centres, with Jacob Kiraz another option if coach Cameron Ciraldo decides not to play him on the wing.

Taaffe offered Ciraldo some food for thought on Thursday night, looking good in the No.1 jersey as Crichton sat out the trial.

"That's been the goal the whole pre-season (to wear No.1)," Taaffe said after the game.

"It's up to what the coach's plan is, I've just got to put my best foot forward."

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