Ricky Stuart will lead the Parramatta Eels out on Saturday minus a host of first-team stars. Photo: Matt Blyth
RICKY STUART will begin his tenure at Parramatta in Armidale on Saturday night without Jarryd Hayne and Chris Sandow.
While Stuart has named a predominantly second-string side for the clash against the Newcastle Knights, he has included a number of NRL players in the 23-man squad. Five-eighth Luke Kelly, who hasn't played since round 19 against the Bulldogs last year, will make his return from a fractured eye socket.
Hooker Nathan Smith, who was promoted to first grade to cover for injured Matt Keating last year, will wear the No.9 jersey on Saturday night. Taulima Tautai will partner Taniela Lasalo in the front row, while veteran Reni Maitua will play in the back row alongside new recruit Daniel Harrison. Pat O'Hanlon is the only player with NRL experience on the bench.
With regular coach Wayne Bennett away on All Stars duties, Rick Stone will take control of the Knights in the opening pre-season trial of the year. Peter Mata'utia, who is returning from a cracked larynx injury he suffered in the NSW Cup last July, is the only player in Stone's 21-man NSW Cup squad with NRL experience.
In Saturday's other trial, seats on the plane to England for the World Club Challenge will be on the line when Melbourne do battle with Queensland Cup side, Easts Brisbane. Winger Matt Duffie will make his return to rugby league for the first time since injuring his shoulder in Melbourne's round 19 loss to North Queensland last season.
Brett Finch, who last played for the Storm in 2010, returns after a two-year stint in the English Super League with Wigan.
Off-season recruits Kurt Mann, Junior Moors, Junior Sa'u and Lagi Setu have all been selected and will get their first opportunity to impress the coaching staff on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Manly Sea Eagles have released Vic Mauro and Liam Foran to English Super League club Salford City Reds. Mauro and Foran will continue training with the Sea Eagles before they depart later this month.
''We're sad to see them go but it's a great opportunity for the boys in a fantastic competition,'' coach Geoff Toovey said. ''Vic's a local junior and a great ambassador for our junior leagues. He's come right through our junior representative system, from North Curl Curl Knights to winning an NRL grand final, and now he's off to ply his trade overseas.
''Liam showed off his ability on the big stage last season and he's sure to excel in the Super League. I wish both of them the best of luck and look forward to seeing them in action for Salford City.''
Mauro, who has represented Italy at an international level, made his debut for the Sea Eagles in round 24 of 2007 and played 47 games for the club.