Parramatta have decided Luke Kelly will be their halfback to start the season and Chris Sandow will have to start the year in reserve grade.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has confirmed halfback Chris Sandow will have to take the long road back to an NRL return in 2014.
Luke Kelly has been confirmed as the Eels’ first-choice No.7 this season and will partner Brisbane recruit Corey Norman in the halves in the round-one clash against the Warriors at Parramatta Stadium.
Sandow spent as much time at fullback as he did at halfback in Saturday night’s 28-24 trial loss to Manly at Brookvale Oval, and although busy, struggled to put his mark on the match.
After being dropped by last year’s coach Ricky Stuart midway through the year, Sandow has worked hard in the off-season to get himself in shape and push for an NRL return.
But the highest-paid reserve grader in rugby league will once again have to prove himself with Wentworthville in the NSW Cup before earning a recall.
Arthur coached Kelly in the under 20s competition at the Melbourne Storm and the pair know each other well.
The 24-year-old from the Northern Territory set up a try against the Sea Eagles, but Arthur said Manly’s slick halves pairing Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran had showed the Eels the level of polish that will be required to rise from the bottom of the table and challenge for the top eight.
“We showed we’ve go a bit of work to do,” said Arthur.
“Their halves have been playing together for a long long time and they’re the nucleus of their team, They’re their senior players so we’ve got a bit of work to do.
“(Kelly) was solid (on Saturday). His kicking game was good. When we completed under 60 per cent it doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to mount any pressure.”
One major source of hope for Parramatta was the form of Will Hopoate in his first league match in nearly two and a half years.
Hopoate set up a try with his first touch of the football and was up to the physical challenge both with and without the ball.
The 21-year-old starred on debut for NSW back in 2011 and also played a leading hand for Manly in their premiership success – quite a way to leave the game for his Mormon missionary.
The expectation will be that Hopoate recaptures his brilliant best straight away, but Arthur is keen to keep his star recruit out of the spotlight.
“There’s no pressure from us,” said Arthur.
“We just want him to enjoy himself. He’s going to get better and we’ll give him time.
“He’s going to get better when we get better around him and obviously with improved strength he’ll get better as well. It was the first time he’s made some full-on serious tackles in two years.”
Manly coach Geoff Toovey also proved there are no hard feelings between the club and Hopoate for him choosing not to re-start his career back to Brookvale.
“It’s good to see him back in the game. I’m sure he’ll have a solid season,” Toovey said.
“It’s a testament to his determination.”