The sight of marquee recruits Pone Tongia and Jack Kavanagh scoring in Saturday's trial win might have Macquarie Raiders fans bursting with excitement but it was the performance of a number of younger players which left captain-coach Alex Ronayne feeling proud.
Ronayne unleased a number of Macquarie's off-season signings at the Apex Oval junior grounds on the weekend and many caught the eye during the commanding win over Gunnedah.
The Raiders passed 50 points in the victory, with former New Zealand Warriors junior Tongia grabbing multiple four-pointers in his first match since arriving in Australia.
Kavanagh had earlier scored the day's first try while Richard Peckham, Tyler Bamblett, and Rob Mafi also crossed in an imposing showing ahead of the Raiders' Group 11 opener at Narromine on May 2.
"The boys were fit, which is good, and there was very good structure. We've been working on that and keeping to the game plan," Ronayne said of the win.
"We all enjoyed it. There's only three or four who played last year so they loved getting back in around the boys and playing a proper game."
While a number of major signings have taken place during the off-season, Ronayne has said repeatedly he's going to give Raiders juniors and those coming into seniors every chance to stake their claim in 2021.
Blake Merritt did his chances no harm on Saturday with a strong showing in the halves alongside the more experienced Matt Toole while hooker Dalin Smith also showed plenty of promise off the bench.
"Young Blake Merritt came up for his first game of first grade and did really well," Ronayne added.
"And there's Aston Warwick keen to have a run and we're keen to get him in there because he played some (SG Ball) with the Panthers and I'm all about getting those young blokes in there playing."
While junior players pressing their claims is a real positive, the performance of Tongia on debut on Saturday was arguably the biggest plus for Macquarie.
Someone who will provide a real presence in the centres, Tongia showed his powerful ball running and ability to create space with great effect against Gunnedah.
"He's a big lad and brings a lot. I think he scored three tries and he's a good lad," Ronayne said.
"He likes being around the boys and he's a big fitness freak. He brings a lot and it's good to get him some early ball and let him do what he wants."
It hasn't been all smooth sailing for the Raiders in recent weeks as the previously announced signing of Wade Kavanagh has collapsed and the Western Rams representative is now expected to turn out for Wellington in 2021.
Some players were also unavailable for Saturday's trial hit-out with Gunnedah but those who did line up showed why many Group 11 fans are saying the Raiders are the team to beat this season.
"Jack Kavanagh and Oliver Gordon were there and those boys played a big part up front," Ronayne said of his new props.
"Young Blakey (Merritt) played five-eighth and he and Tooley linked well and Richie Peckham at nine was really good so the combinations are coming together well and there's still four or five blokes to come in.
"It looked good and I was very proud of the boys and pleased with the way they played."
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