After making an encouraging debut for the New Zealand Warriors despite their heavy pre-season trial defeat on the Gold Coast, Penrith recruit Harry Siejka is hopeful of making an impact against his former club.
The Warriors 42-24 loss to the Titans on Saturday night represented Siejka's first game time since the round 19 NRL clash between the Panthers and Wests Tigers in mid-July and despite a long lay-off due to shoulder surgery the 21-year-old showed some deft touches at Pizzey Park.
Siejka, released by Penrith in December in order to link with former Panthers head coach Matthew Elliott at Mt Smart, played only four games for the Western Sydney club since his NRL debut in 2011 and knows similar obstacles exist at the Warriors.
Halfback Shaun Johnson, a Kiwis international in 2012, and the vastly experienced Thomas Leuluai's return to Auckland from Super League means Siejka starts this phase of his footballing career as a back-up option.
Johnson's selection for the NRL All-Stars team on Saturday night and Elliott's decision to rest his first choice personnel to the second trial this weekend in Hamilton afforded Siejka and opportunity to log sought after game time in the halves.
"I was a bit dusty but it was the first trial so everyone's a bit dusty," the former Australian Schoolboys representative said.
Siejka was released by the Panthers with a season remaining on his contract - a decision that surprised Panthers fan who hoped the local junior would be a long-term playmaker in the mould of a Greg Alexander.
However, he was unable to command a regular starting position since his introduction to the big time against Johnathan Thurston's North Queensland Cowboys and jumped at the chance to resume his tutelage under Elliott.
"I was at Penrith for a long time, seven or eight years and as the saying goes 'a change is as good as a holiday'," he said.
"Matty told me I wasn't going to get a spot straight away.
"With Tommy and Shaun in there I had to work for it but saying that I think it's the challenge I needed."
Johnson emerged unscathed from the All-Stars exhibition game so will be available while Leuluai, a Warrior in 2003-04, will be looking forward to making his comeback.
"This will be our strong team so hopefully I can get in amongst it there somewhere off the bench or in the halves," Siejka said.
"It's something I've been looking forward to since leaving the club, playing against all the boys again."
Elliott had a 113-game stint as the Panthers head coach from 2007 to 2011 but said his background knowledge would be of no benefit on Saturday night because his roster had been significantly revamped.
Besides, his priority was to concentrate on his own squad after an admittedly makeshift and raw group leaked seven tries against a ruthless Titans outfit.
Kicks were the catalyst for five of the touch downs - a concerning deficiency though one that should be addressed when the established players are ushered in.
"We exposed a lot of young blokes to a higher level, which is a really good thing for us," said Elliott said, placing the loss in context.
Meanwhile, impact forward Sione Lousi's knee injury is still to be assessed but he is unlikely to be available for the opening round clash at Parramatta on March 9.
- © Fairfax NZ News