DEFENDING Group 11 champions Macquarie Raiders will get their first match practice of the 2013 campaign on Saturday when they line up against reigning Group 9 champions Albury Thunder in a trial at Apex Oval.
The hastily-organised match came together when Albury captain-coach Josh Cale told Raiders mentor John Grey he was bringing some of his players north for a bonding session, and while neither side will be wound up or full strength, some good football can be expected.
The Raiders will use the match as a chance to trial new combinations, especially in the wake of losing premiership stars Jade Williams, Jeremy Smith and, more recently, prop forward Kinni Tanaulucavu.
The Fijian has linked with Narromine, leaving Grey searching for some size to replace the two-time premiership player.
"Losing Kinni came as a bit of a shock, a bit out of left field really," Grey said.
"He obviously provided us with some size and impact up front but I have no doubt we have the depth to cover for him.
"It's an opportunity for someone to step up and that starts this Saturday against Albury and then a week later against Mudgee.
"We've still got Ash Conn and Ant Egan, we have the option to moves Moses Manu into the front row and Waylon Cochrane did a good job when Jade called on him last year so we're still not too bad off at front-row."
Star recruit Darren Jackson is expected to miss this Saturday's trial but the former NSW Country captain is likely to be on the field when the Raiders trial against Mudgee next Saturday.
Grey himself will play his first football since a hamstring problem put him out of last season's grand final but admitted he will spend a bit of time on the sidelines observing as well.
"I wouldn't expect the boys to get out there and me not go out and get a sweat up with them," he said.
"But being our first run and the fact we won't have our top squad out there either, I will need to sit on the sideline and just watch a bit and see how some of the combinations work.
"There's spots in our top side open and I want to see who the guys are that can step into those spots."