STEVE TURNER: 2013 – the year of the NRL comeback

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Dane Gagai - just one rugby league story screaming out for the celluloid treatment. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

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This has been a vintage season for players bouncing back from all kinds of adversity and I’d like to hand out a few pats on the back in recognition of their stirring contributions in 2013.

These guys aren’t from the superstar category but each, in his own way, has had a profound effect on how their teams have fared to this point.

Dane Gagai has been a tremendous pickup for the Knights and it has been a masterstroke from Wayne Bennett to get him fit and firing in a Newcastle jumper.

The classy centre has had his share of personal issues in the past but he has responded brilliantly to Wayne Bennett’s methods and an environment completely different to the one he knew in Brisbane. I think Dane has taken his game to a new level and, significantly, he looks to have got his life in order.

Before he suffered an injury, halfback Albert Kelly was the standout for the Gold Coast Titans, scorching over for 11 tries in his 18 appearances. He has been a magnificent replacement for veteran Scott Prince and formed a snappy combination with another youngster, Aiden Sezer.

Like Gagai, Albert has been involved in drama away from the football field, but it’s clear he is enjoying his new club and football under the steady gaze of coach John Cartwright.

Kelly really appreciated the Titans investing in him, even though it seemed like a gamble at the time. I believe he will repay that investment many times over in the years to come.

Cronulla’s gifted fullback Michael Gordon deserves a huge wrap for fighting his way to the top after suffering two major leg injuries at his previous club, Penrith.

Michael has been a fantastic gain for the Sharks and I’m tipping him to be a match-winner for them in the big pressure games the club is about to play.

He left the Panthers to play in his pet position at fullback and you can certainly see why – he’s safe under the high ball, tackles well in the last line and bobs up repeatedly in attack.

Bryson Goodwin ruptured his spleen playing for the Bulldogs last year and there were fears at the time that he might never play again.

He found himself off contract, and when the Bulldogs had signed Sam Perret and Kristan Inu mid-season, his future looked bleak.

Souths threw him a lifeline and he accepted it gratefully. He has repaid the club in spades.

I rate Bryson as one of the best-performed centres in the NRL this season. He has run up against Manly’s Jamie Lyon on two occasions this year and lost nothing by comparison.

Souths recently gave him a two-year contract extension. It was richly deserved and he looms as a big gun for the club in its upcoming finals campaign.

At Manly, Justin Horo has proved to be one of the best stories of the season.

Shunned by Parramatta last year, he switched to the Sea Eagles without a hint of fanfare and has been a brilliant performer against all opposition.

Horo will be a key performer for Manly in the finals. Big, fast and incredibly strong, he looks to be having the time of his life at Brookvale and there might even be a World Cup jumper for New Zealand awaiting him at season’s end.

Canterbury’s Trent Hodkinson has returned from two shoulder reconstructions and knee surgery to nail down the seven jumper with a string of fine performances this season.

It must have hurt him watching Kris Keating play in last year’s decider, but Trent has fought his way back in sensational style and has formed the combination with Josh Reynolds coach Des Hasler was hoping for.

He is also a fine tactical kicker and a top-drawer goal-kicker. The Dogs have relied heavily on him and he has responded superbly.

Roarers, have I missed anyone who deserves to get a special mention here? A player who has fought his way back to the NRL after all looked lost? I’ve said my bit – it’s now over to you.

Steve Turner is a retired rugby league player currently employed at the Canterbury Bulldogs as the club's content producer. He is a regular at both ABC Grandstand and Fox Sports News. Steve played 161 NRL games for the Panthers, the Storm and the Bulldogs, as well as one game for the NSW Origin team and one game for City Origin. He played in the 2006, 07, 08 and 09 NRL grand finals. Twitter- @SteveTurner84
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