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Melbourne Storm will roll out its big guns for the first of four pre-season trial matches commencing this Saturday night in Noosa on Queensland?s Sunshine Coast.
Club stalwarts Robbie Ross, Rodney Howe and Scott Hill - all returning from injury that saw them miss the majority of the 2003 season ? have been named in the Storm?s 21-man side to play Queensland Cup team Tweed Heads this weekend.
The three former Australian Test representatives managed a combined total of just 15 matches last season and will be looking to use Saturday?s game as the ideal springboard to regaining valuable match fitness.
?The reason this trial was set up originally was to have a look at the younger guys in our squad but since then we?ve decided to include a few of the older players as well,? Storm coach Craig Bellamy explained.
?It?s a really good opportunity for us to have a look at the youth at this club and another chance for a few of the younger members of the squad to show what they are capable of.
?Some of the older guys in Hill, Ross and Howe will be looking to get some game time under their belt and they were all keen play this match without us having to push them. Scott actually came and asked me if he could play because he?s that keen to get on the paddock.?
Hill has been one of the Storm?s standout performers throughout the pre-season after a series of shoulder injuries cut short his 2003 campaign. Ross (back) and Howe (knee) are looking for a consistent return to the NRL this year after managing just six and 15 games respectively over the past two seasons.
Andrew McFadden has been named at halfback in what will be his first match for Melbourne since re-injuring his groin against the Cowboys in round seven last year.
2003 rookie sensation Billy Slater is also set to play against Tweed Heads as part of his return from ongoing groin troubles that have hampered the 20-year-old?s pre-season.
After holding down the fullback position last year, Slater will line-up in the centres this weekend in what could be a pointer to the season ahead with Robbie Ross and youngster Steve Turner vying for the starting fullback position.
The Storm squad will stay in Noosa for a weeklong camp before heading to Toowoomba to take on the Brisbane Broncos on Saturday February 21.
Melbourne then takes on the Canberra Raiders in Wagga Wagga on Saturday February 28, before travelling to Sydney to play Newtown on March 6.
The Storm has been forced to continue its pre-season training at Faulkner Park over the next two to three weeks as Olympic Park returns to a suitable standard.
Following last week?s motocross event the ground?s surface was left in an unsatisfactory state but is expected to be right for the Storm?s season opener against the Newcastle Knights on Sunday March 21.
MELBOURNE STORM TEAM TO PLAY TWEED HEADS THIS SATURDAY AT BARTERCARD OVAL, NOOSA AT 7.30PM: Bench 1. Robbie Ross 2. Michael Crockett 3. Billy Slater 4. Jake Webster 5. Dustin Cooper 6. Cooper Cronk 7. Andrew McFadden 8. Sione Finefeuiaki 9. Nathan Friend 10. Brett O?Farrell 11. Antonio Kaufusi 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Jeremy Smith