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Jasper Bruce

Raiders belt Eels in trials but spine questions remain

Canberra have stormed home late to crush the Eels 38-16 in a pre-season trial match in Sydney. (Steven Markham/AAP PHOTOS)

Canberra's spine conundrum appears no closer to being solved despite a 38-16 defeat of Parramatta in the NRL pre-season challenge.

The Raiders entered the summer with uncertainty as to who would play in three of four spine positions, following the departure of five-eighth Jack Wighton and movement at hooker and fullback in 2023.

Only halfback Jamal Fogarty appears assured of a spot in the starting team for round one.

There was ample opportunity for a hero to announce himself in a game that was close until the final 20 minutes at Jubilee Stadium on Saturday.

But none was forthcoming on the edges for the Green Machine, who were bulldozed to a big victory late in the piece by a cast of up-and-comers.

In the halves, Kaeo Weekes and fellow five-eighth option Ethan Strange were solid without setting the world alight.

Weekes scored Canberra's second try after putting a bomb up, chasing through and then finding himself on the receiving end of a second kick from Nick Cotric.

Strange looked comfortable with the boot himself, forcing a dropout in the first half.

"Obviously there's opportunities that we missed, but there were opportunities that we did take," said Weekes.

"It was a good first hit-out for the boys and good to run around again."

The Raiders' usual starting hooker in 2023, Zac Woolford was given first chance to impress at dummy-half but an early head knock cut his night short.

Young Chevy Stewart defused a 40/20 attempt in the first half but never cut loose with the ball as fullback rivals Seb Kris and Jordan Rapana watched on.

Brendan Hands staked his claim to start at hooker for Parramatta, who are set to anoint either the Penrith junior or Joey Lussick as Josh Hodgson's permanent successor.

Brendan Hands.
Brendan Hands was one of Parramatta's best in the trial loss to Canberra. (Steven Markham/AAP PHOTOS)

Ousted from starting duties by mid-season recruit Lussick last year, Hands was the Eels' most impressive player, setting up the first try with a dart out of dummy-half.

He was held up from scoring his own try, and later cut through the middle on a line break that could've led to Parramatta's third try had he found an inside ball.

After a solid first half, highly-rated young Eels half Ethan Sanders struggled, putting one kick out on the full and failing to find touch from a penalty with another.

Parramatta recruit Kelma Tuilagi struck up a formidable partnership with Bailey Simonsson on the left edge after usual second-rower Shaun Lane went to the bench.

Tuilagi burst past former Manly teammate Weekes on a break that led Simonsson to score the side's third. 

Eels forward Makahesi Makatoa is likely to face scrutiny from the match review committee after laying a hip drop-style tackle on Raiders winger Xavier Savage in the first half.

Matt Arthur, son of Parramatta coach Brad, knocked himself out cold attempting to tackle Peter Taateo off a kick return and left the field following a five-minute break in play.

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