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Put up or shut up: Players who need a big 2019

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Expert
27th February, 2019
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2106 Reads

The game of rugby league is littered with tales of players who were the next big thing but somehow failed to live up to the hype.

Right now there are players at clubs right across the NRL who know that 2019 needs to be a good season for them if they want to keep getting referred to as a star; or to get the contract they want; or to keep their starting spot; or even just to get another contract.

Anthony Milford
Milford exploded onto the scene with the Raiders and was touted as the next big thing. He turned down a huge contract with the Green Machine to Join the Broncos and, in his first year with Brisbane, he played in the Grand Final.

While the Broncos have played in every finals series since Milford has been there – and he has shown flashes of his brilliance – he has not yet become the game-dominating superstar that so many thought he would become.

Make no mistake: he is a very good player. He won the Paul Morgan Medal as Broncos’ player of the year in 2018. But his 12 try assists and average of just 85 metres per game were his worst returns so far in a full season.

If the Broncos are to really challenge in 2019 Milford needs to turn it on.

Broncos player Anthony Milford

The Milf is one of the NRL’s wonderful little men. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Kieran Foran
This will be the Kiwi’s eleventh season in the NRL. To say his career has been a rollercoaster is inaccurate. It has been more like a slide.

Starting with the Sea Eagles in 2009, he won the 2011 Premiership and was a runner up in 2013. It has been downhill since then. He has had stints with the Eels, the Warriors and now the Bulldogs where he has failed to set the world on fire and has had long stints off with injury. He has only played in 38 of a possible 72 games since the start of 2016.

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The Bulldogs need Foran to step up in a big way this year if they are to have any chance. Further, if Foran wants another NRL contract he needs to show some great form in 2019.

Jack Wighton
Wighton debuted for the Raiders in 2012 and has been a fixture in the side ever since. However, due to off field indiscretions he completely missed the second half of the Raiders season, playing only 13 of their 24 matches.

Until he was suspended by the NRL, it was shaping to be his best season. Wighton is a bloke that runs hard, hits the line hard and tackles even harder. He has immense skill and talent.

In 2019 he has to decide whether he wants to be known for being in trouble off the field – like so many other NRL players before him – or if he wants to be remembered as a great footballer. Time to make up your mind, Jack.

Raiders Jack Wighton looks on

Raiders fullback Jack Wighton. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Shaun Johnson
You know the best thing about Shaun Johnson? No, it’s not his speed, his kicking, his footwork, or even his passing.

For the majority of NRL fans the best thing about the Kiwi half is that he has never truly lived up to his promise.

Except for Warriors supporters, most NRL fans love that about him because if he had then our teams would’ve had a much harder time against his teams.

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His move to the Sharks is a great opportunity for him to get a fresh start and to become the dominant, match-winning player we all hope he will be (except when he’s playing our sides of course).

Mitchell Moses
Moses joined the Eels midway through 2017 when Ivan Cleary didn’t want him on the Wests Tigers bus anymore. Moses has undoubted talent. His four try assists against the Dragons in Round 22 showed just what he is capable of.

We also heard what he is capable of in regard to swearing at his teammates last season via the refs mics. He was one of the three ‘Big four’ to leave the Wests Tigers for supposedly greener pastures, but those pastures were not that green in 2018 with the Eels getting the wooden spoon.

Moses will be very aware of that and will want to show in 2019 that he is one of the NRL’s leading playmakers. The question is whether he can or not.

Mitchell Moses of the Eels

The Eels are struggling in 2018. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Ashley Taylor
Born in Toowoomba just as the Super League war erupted, Taylor will be 24 next month.

He left the Broncos to get a starting berth at halfback and the Red Hill club must be kicking themselves that he was let go.

He is a superb game manager and more than adept at setting up tries. His kicking game is also top notch. 2019 may be the year he pushes for a Queensland berth.

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Taylor could push into the top echelon this season, especially behind a pack brimming with talent.

Ash Taylor

Ash Taylor is where it’s AT. (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

Moses Suli
After his debut for the Wests Tigers in 2017 the Daily Telegraph dubbed Suli the next big thing. It hasn’t unfolded that way.

Suli has subsequently made most posts a loser. On January 31 2018 he was released by the Wests Tigers for reportedly leaving training sessions early and sleeping in teammates cars.

The Dogs then picked him up on a big contract only to axe him 28 days later for repeated infringements. Afterwards he was picked up by the Sea Eagles but was dropped after losing his passport and missing training in New Zealand.

There is no question the kid has footballing talent. The problem for Suli seems to be between the ears. The Sea Eagles desperately need him to live up to his potential in 2019.

Sandor Earl
Sandor Earl is the living embodiment of why cooperating with the authorities can be a very stupid idea.

Unlike others implicated in the peptides scandal, Earl admitted his involvement and worked with investigators. In return he was forced out of the game for four years while others lost three games only.

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I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Earl and I hope he is able to get back to his wonderful form from 2012.

His knee reconstruction in 2018 was just unfair for a bloke who has more than paid for any crime he committed and then some. At 29 years of age now, he won’t have another chance.

Jesse Ramien
If I was a Sharks fan I would have openly wept when they lost this bloke to the Knights. In his 20 appearances for the Sharks in 2018 he scored 10 tries, and averaged 110 metres and 3.5 tackle busts a game.

The lad from Coonamble looks more than the goods. If the Knights are lucky, Ramien will continue that great form in 2019. If he does he’ll start being discussed in terms of State of Origin selection sooner rather than later.

Nathan Cleary
Ok – yes, you got me – I’m an unabashed Nathan Cleary fan. I am also a huge fan of his father and coach. And if my side ceased to be (which I really hope they don’t) I would most probably be a Panthers member.

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But all of that bias aside, Nathan Cleary is just wonderful. Even though he is just 21 years old and only has 58 NRL games to his credit, I’ve already seen enough to say that he will be – barring misfortune – one of the dominant playmakers of the next decade.

Already an established Origin player, look for him to prove me (and the multitudes who agree with me) right in 2019.

Nathan Cleary

Nathan Cleary of the Panthers (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Alex Johnston
It seems like ‘AJ’ has been around for ages. However, while this will be his sixth NRL season, he has only just turned 24. Like so many others before him, Johnston was touted as the next big thing.

The next Inglis if I recall correctly. His career hasn’t quite scaled the heights of the great Queenslander as yet. However, his 2018 season was, in my opinion, his best yet.

He looked smarter and calmer than in previous seasons, providing greater direction for the Rabbitohs. It showed through his 11 try assists.

Listed on the Rabbitohs website as a winger, he looked solid in the number one jersey too. I’m hoping that he continues to build on his great 2018 form to become a dominant player in the NRL.

Matt Dufty
I really like the way Matt Dufty attacks. He is whippet fast and is great at exploiting opportunities. He made 16 line breaks in 2018 for 13 tries.

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Matt Dufty Dragons fullback

Matthew ‘Duft Punk’ Dufty. (Image/Darren Pateman)

He also set nine tries up while averaging nearly 130 metres a game. However, he missed 39 tackles in the last line of defence. As a fullback you must have the ability to bring players – big players – down one-on-one.

I’m not sure Dufty can reliably do that. If he wants to nail down a spot at the Dragons – let alone the Number one jersey – then he must step up in defence ASAP.

Solomone Kata
This bloke came to my attention first through his big Supercoach scores. I stupidly didn’t draft him in early, assuming he was a flash in the pan.

It was another reason my side that year finished in the 80,000s…

Ever since then I watched him closely. He has scored 44 tries from his 87 appearances to date and is a tackle busting machine. But what I really like about the Mate Ma’a Tonga centre is that he is really good in defence on top of all his great attack.

I reckon 2019 will be the season that Kata really steps up as a superstar at the Warriors.

Josh Reynolds
Yes, like Nathan Cleary, I also love Josh Reynolds. At his best ‘Grub’ is irrepressible and electric. And he’s so likeable too. The problem is that he has been beset by injuries for so long now.

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2016 was his last season that wasn’t severely marred by injury – his hamstring a regular culprit.

Turning 30 in April and signed to the end of 2021 with the Wests Tigers, Reynolds knows that he has no time left to waste. He needs to get back to his best this year, if his hammy allows him…

Josh Reynolds in NSW blue

Josh Reynolds. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Angus Crichton
Crichton returns to the Roosters with whom he played in the 2014 under 20s cup winning side with Latrell Mitchell amongst others. Coming to a side who just won the premiership would be a bit daunting for most but I suspect the lad from Young will be up to the challenge. He is as good as they reckon.

In 2018 he averaged 34 tackles a game at over 90 per cent efficiency, while also making 125 metres. On top of that he breaks the line regularly and sets up tries.

He earned a Sky Blue jersey in 2018 and is unlikely to let it go. I think 2019 will be his best yet. And that should really scare the Roosters opponents. It scares me.

Jake Granville
The Cowboys hooker is now 30 years old and his team is relying on him to step up this season. After a superb debut season with the Cowboys in 2015 that culminated in a premiership, Granville’s form has been patchy.

With the retirement of Jonathan Thurston, Granville must again assert his dominance in the middle for the Cowboys in 2019 if his side are to be genuine contenders. He’s a great player to watch when in good form and I hope he gets back to his best this year.

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