YOUNG Parramatta half Luke Kelly says today’s trial match against the Newcastle Knights carries plenty of importance with the NRL season just around the corner.
The 23-year-old Northern Territorian, who moved to the club from the Melbourne Storm mid-way through last season, is keen to show new coach Ricky Stuart that he should be in the blue and gold number six or seven jumper in five weeks.
He played four first grade games last season but hopes to play a lot more in 2013.
After signing with the Storm and captaining its under 20s side to a premiership, Kelly got a start in first grade back in 2009.
After a few injury problems and with the likes of Test half Cooper Cronk and English rep Gareth Widdop in front of him at Melbourne, he decided to take up an offer from Parra mid-season.
While the Storm went on to win the premiership, the move gives Kelly the best chance of playing first grade.
“It’s been frustrating,” Kelly said.
“I only played four games last year and then fractured my eye socket and missed the last eight games.
“But my goal this year is to start solid and hopefully cement a spot.”
Kelly will compete with the likes of his good mate Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts for places in the Eels halves.
He is happy to fill either the halfback or five-eighth spot and play on the left or the right.
“I can’t control what everyone else does,” he said.
“I’m just trying to play my best.
“If I can play well and everything goes well I can get a spot.”
A lot of the Eels playing in today’s game at the newly upgraded Bellevue Oval at the University of New England are in the same boat as Kelly.
They all want to be in the Parra starting side for the round one game against the Warriors on March 9.
Reni Maitua cannot play in the official NRL trial period starting next week due to suspension so is having a run today, while Taniela Lasalo, Kelly, Manly recruit Daniel Harrison, Pat O’Hanlon and Nathan Smith are the other first graders in the side.
The rest of the team will be made up of NSW Cup players and Under 20s players who would love to step up to the top grade.
“We’ve got a new coach and we’re all playing for a spot,” Kelly said.
“It’s definitely not just a warm-up game or anything like that.
“We’ll put in 150 per cent because there’s a lot of boys who are out to prove a point.”
And the Newcastle players will feel the same.
The Knights have brought their NSW Cup squad and have included some players who are still on trial with the club, like Tamworth product Simon Allen.
Those players will have everything to play for.
Kelly said he and his Eels teammates are also keen to play in Armidale after a long off-season.
“I think we’re just all looking forward to it,” he said.
After eight weeks of training everyone just wants to get out there.
“You can feel there’s some excitement in the team because there are games just around the corner.”
Kelly grew up in Katherine in the Top End.
He is one of a growing number of players from the Northern Territory who are making it to NRL level.
“AFL is probably the main game there,” he said.
“But a lot of people still play (league). It’s pretty popular.
“There’s Will Chambers (Storm), Joel Romelo (Bulldogs) and James McManus (Knights) and it’s really good to see.
“Hopefully it will continue.”
Apart from Kelly’s own personal goal of cementing a first grade spot, he would also love to help the Eels get off the bottom of the ladder and make the semi-finals this year.
He said the whole squad was determined to make that happen.
“We can’t do any worse,” he said.
“Everyone is really competitive and no ones likes losing.
“Individually and as a group, everyone is disappointed with the way we went last year and everyone is out to prove a point.
“Everyone is really determined at the club.”
Today’s game kicks off at 5pm with tickets available at the gate.
Gates open at noon with the curtainraisers kicking off at 1.30pm featuring the Greater Northern Academy squads against the Eels juniors.