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Halfback battle between Brodie Croft, Ryley Jacks moves onto field as Melbourne Storm play first trial
Brodie Croft remains the frontrunner to take over the Melbourne Storm halfback role vacated by Cooper Cronk, but he won't have an easy ride to the start of the NRL season.
The Storm open their pre-season campaign behind closed doors at AAMI Park on Wednesday when they face Newcastle Knights in a trial game.
Both clubs are expected to field expanded squads, with the Knights expected to bring their full-strength team while the Storm will field the players they are considering for their World Club Challenge game against Leeds Rhinos at AAMI Park on February 16.
The most scrutinised position will be who gets first run in Cronk's old No.7 jersey and Storm football director Frank Ponissi said Croft and second-year back Ryley Jacks were battling for the role.
"Those two would definitely be the frontrunners but Scott Drinkwater, who is a younger player, has had a really good pre-season as well," Ponissi said.
"Ryley and Brodie have both had terrific pre-seasons, Brodie will probably get first crack but having said that Ryley has played 12 or so games last year and only lost one or two of them so he handled playing NRL really well.
"It's a good situation to have and they will both be playing Wednesday and there is a strong chance that they could both play in the 17 for the World Club Challenge game, maybe or maybe not.
"There is an extra spring in their step this year knowing that seven jersey is up for grabs."
The Storm and Knights had not originally scheduled Wednesday's game but both need match practice so came to agreement on the match-up, as it gives the Knights more game time together after several major signings and the Storm a warm-up ahead of the WCC.
The Storm are expected to suit up 28 players for the game and share their minutes around but they also won't be risking any of their veteran stars if they aren't ready to play.
The likes of Cameron Smith, Will Chambers and Billy Slater only returned to training last week after their annual leave following the World Cup.
"Craig Bellamy and the coaches all believed that going into a WCC game without match practice was not going to work," Ponissi said.
"It's going to be tough as Leeds will [have] played two premiership games by the time they get here so they are at an advantage over us.
"To go in absolutely cold would not give us a good chance of winning. Newcastle was looking for a second trial game so it works out well and they will bring their absolute best team, Mitchell Pearce will make his debut in front of zero people and we are hearing they have had a great pre-season [and] will come out fast. It will be a really good dress rehearsal for the World Club Challenge."