Biggest surprises packets of the season
In response to my last article The biggest NRL disappointments of 2012, I have gone back to the drawing board and formulated my team of those who have far exceeded their expectations for season 2012.
Fullback: Reece Robinson (Canberra Raiders)
Playing a majority of the season filling in at fullback for the injured Josh Dugan, Reece Robinson has really put his hand up and shown coach David Furner he is a true first grader. Having only played 32 first grade games for both Canberra and Brisbane since 2008, Robinson has managed 14 appearances for the Green Machine in 2012, scoring 11 tries, while racking up nine line breaks and 53 tackle busts.
Honorable mention: Matthew Wright (Cronulla Sharks)
Wingers: Ken Sio (Parramatta Eels)
Having played only one game prior to 2012, Sio has gone on to play every minute this season. He has been one of the very few positives in a poor season for the Eels, who have only managed to chalk up three victories to date. Ken sits equal third for number of tries by wingers with 10, while notching up 12 line breaks, behind only the Newcastle pairing of Akulia Uate and James McManus.
Andrew Everingham (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Having played NSW Cup for the past couple of seasons, Souths coach Michael Maguire gave the speedy outside back a chance in the top grade, naming Everingham to make his debut in Round 3 at the ripe old age of 25. Ever since then, the Newcastle product has secured himself a position on the wing, scoring 12 tries in just 15 appearances for the red and green.
Honorable mentions: Edrick Lee (Canberra Raiders), Cheyse Blair (Parramatta Eels), Jorge Taufua (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Centres: Jonathon Wright (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs)
Jonathon has certainly cemented his spot in the first grade line-up following a standout 2012. Although Hasler has shifted Wright to the wing during the second half of the year, he has spent most of his time in the centres. Having come into the season with only 23 games experience under his belt, Wright has looked like a seasoned first grader, scoring 9 tries, to go along with his seven linebreaks and 35 tackle busts.
Kane Linnet (North Queensland Cowboys)
After making the transfer from the Sydney Roosters during the offseason, Linnet has taken his game to another level. Filling in for the former Australian international Willie Tonga following his decision to head south (both geographically and in performance), Kane certainly had his work cut out for him. In his 15 appearances for North Queensland in 2012, Linnet has scored 7 tries, while making 16 linebreaks – which is the equal most for any centre in the competition.
Honorable mentions: Konrad Hurrell (New Zealand Warriors), Will Chambers (Melbourne Storm).
Five-eighth: Josh Reynolds (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs)
Reynolds, who had only played 10 first grade games prior to 2012, has played all 17 of Canterbury’s games so far this season. With Kris Keating moving to halfback following an injury to Trent Hodkinson, Reynolds grabbed the #6 jersey with both hands and has asserted himself as a regular fixture in first grade. Having scored eight tries and having a hand in 10 others, the 23-year-old has a promising future in the game.
Honorable mention: Corey Norman (Brisbane Broncos)
Halfback: Adam Reynolds (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The little number seven has been a welcome addition to the Souths starting line-up in season 2012. Taking over the reins from Chris Sandow during the offseason, Reynolds, who made his first grade debut in round one, has been one of the major factors in the Rabbits’ improved form this year. Having not missed a minute of football during his 17 appearances, Reynolds is the year’s second highest point scorer.
Honorable mention: Jeff Robson (Cronulla Sharks)
Hooker: Matt Srama (Gold Coast Titans)
Much like with my biggest disappointments of 2012 article, there was no clear standout, however of all the number 9s, the Gold Coasts Matty Srama has been one of the biggest surprises. Despite performing well in his 14 appearances last season, it was interesting to see if he could shake off the dreaded ‘second year syndrome’. Clearly Srama has done so, proving one of the most promising hookers in the game with his 635 tackles, while chalking up five line breaks which is equal second among dummy-halfs.
Honorable mention: Mitch Rein (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Props: Aaron Woods (West Tigers)
Although impressive while coming off the bench last season, Woods has really picked up his game in 2012, making a start in all of the Tigers 17 games. Filling in for Bryce Gibbs, who went to Cronulla during the off-season, Woods is averaging 61 minutes of game time, while sitting atop the list of most hit-ups by a prop with 271.
James Graham (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs)
The English import has certainly made his impact on the NRL in season 2012. With some questioning pre-season whether the former St Helens co-captain would be able to make the transition from the Super League to the NRL, Graham has proven them wrong and has become arguably the best front rower in the competition. Despite coming off the bench every week, he has made the third most tackles among props with 563, while making 264 hit-ups.
Honorable mentions: Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos), Willie Mason (Newcastle Knights)
Backrow: Wade Graham (Cronulla Sharks)
Graham, who is having a stellar 2012, has been a major reason behind the Sharks turnaround in form this season. The 21-year-old was given the honour of captaining Cronulla against St George on the weekend, showing the former Panther’s leadership skills. Graham, who played at five-eighth throughout his junior career, has the ability to create something out of nothing, shown by his five tries, eight linebreaks and 45 tackle busts. And best of all, he’s a New South Welshman.
Joseph Paulo (Parramatta Eels)
In a very poor season for Parramatta, the rise of youngsters like Paulo and Sio has proven the season hasn’t been a complete bust. Only brought into the line-up in round two due to Nathan Hindmarsh being ruled out with a virus, Paulo impressed and has been a regular in the 17 ever since. So far this season, Joseph has contributed three try assists, five line break assists and 136 runs, giving coach Stephen Kearney plenty of reasons to keep him in first grade.
Jayson Bukuya (Cronulla Sharks)
After showing glimpses of spectacular play in 2011, the 23-year-old forward has certainly backed it up in 2012. Having missed only one game so far this season, Bukuya has managed four tries, 41 tackle busts and five line breaks. With experienced heads around the club like Paul Gallen and Ben Ross, the future for both Wade Graham and Jayson Bukuya is looking pretty bright for 2013 and beyond.
Honorable mentions: Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders), Ryan Simpkins (Penrith Panthers), Matthew Ryan (Parramatta Eels)