Canterbury coach Des Hasler has played down his fullback problems as Brett Morris and Will Hopoate race the clock to be ready for their season-opening NRL clash against Manly.
Hopoate limped from the field in Saturday’s 24-20 loss to Penrith in an NRL trial, while Morris is in doubt for round one as he continues to battle a knee injury that required a cleanout in December.
Neither are expected to take part in their final pre-season trial against Melbourne next week, however Hasler said both are strong chances of taking on the Sea Eagles.
In his first appearance in the blue and white, Hopoate hobbled off the field late in the first half after falling awkwardly in a routine carry from dummy-half.
“It’s just a cork, he just jarred it, so we just pulled him off as a precaution,” Hasler said.
The former Parramatta star is likely to deputise Morris at fullback against the Sea Eagles, however Hasler was confident he wouldn’t need to.
“We’re pretty sure (Morris will) start the season. It’s just a matter of maintenance,” he said.
A cagey Hasler also said little of Hopoate’s first run in club colours, which included a try.
“He played okay, it was just good to get everyone out there for 40 minutes,” he said.
The two-time premiership-winning coach dodged questions on halfback Moses Mbye, who looked dynamic in a 40-minute stint as the first-choice No.7 in place of Trent Hodkinson.
In one thrilling play in the first half, the emerging Queenslander broke the line clean and touched the ball two more times in the lead-up to a Kieron Holland try.
Hasler declined to comment on Mbye’s performance, but did admit he faced a challenge to find a first-choice goalkicker in Hodkinson’s absence.
Holland missed one shot, Mbye kicked one from two, while youngster Brad Keighran nailed his only shot from in front against the Panthers.
“But even Trent would’ve said he only kicked at 66 per cent. It’s something we’re conscious of, but it’s only a trial,” he said.
The Bulldogs open their NRL season against the Sea Eagles on March 4.