Every few years it comes up. Growing the game. Expanding into new markets. And hand-in-hand with the concept of expansion comes relocation.
With over 75 players abandoning club loyalty and crossing to rival squads for the upcoming season, the 2018-19 NRL off-season has featured headlines aplenty.
With an unprecedented number of off-field dramas dominating the news, a number of big names, headlined by Shaun Johnson, Tyrone Peachey, Blake Ferguson and David Klemmer, have provided league fans with welcomed relief from the much-maligned and seemingly continuous onslaught of incidents that have tarnished the game’s reputation.
However, sitting below these big-ticket transfers sit a number of low-key signings, and while they may not have dominated the headlines, they look set to have a dramatic impact on the final outcome of the 2019 season.
From underrated forwards with premiership-winning experience to English stalwarts looking to make their mark on the Australian competition, these are five of the most underrated signings for the 2019 NRL season.
Leeson Ah Mau (New Zealand Warriors)
While he may have started from the bench in all bar three of the Dragons’ games, prop Leeson Ah Mau’s on-field contributions received far less acknowledgement than they deserved in 2018.
Averaging over 20 tackles per game, Ah Mau’s true potential shone through in the St George Illawarra’s Round 24 encounter with the Bulldogs, where the prop came from the bench to make 43 tackles, 13 hit-ups and five tackle-busts in a 38-0 loss at Jubilee Oval.
While he may not bring try-scoring potential – he has scored on just six occasions in the last ten seasons – Ah Mau will move into a starting prop role at the club with which he first started his career. Following the loss of club captain Simon Mannering, Ah Mau will provide much-needed experience and depth to a young core of forwards. More than anything, the prop will seek to add an air of consistency to the Warriors often erratic performances, a sentiment shared by coach Stephen Kearney.
“He’s a big forward who is consistently one of the Dragons’ best week in, week out. He fits the mould of the type of player we’re building our squad around – tough, durable and with a tremendous attitude in all he does on and off the field,” Kearney said.
On the flip side of the equation the Dragons have snared Fijian representative Korbin Sims for 2019, enabling him to play alongside his brother in one of the most devastating forward packs in the league.
Shannon Boyd (Gold Coast Titans)
While many questioned the finals potential of the Gold Coast line-up in 2018, there was no questioning the strength of their forward pack. Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow both represented Queensland last season, Kevin Proctor was a Kiwi international and Ryan James continues to be regarded as one of the top forwards in the game at club level.
In 2019 former Raiders hitman Shannon Boyd will round out the all-representative forward line-up, relegating young guns Moeaki Fotuaika and Keegan Hipgrave to the bench.
With 111 games of NRL experience over five seasons at the Raiders and four games for Australia, Boyd’s four-year contract hasn’t come cheap – it’s reportedly worth $2.4 million. However, with the Titans trailing only the Bulldogs, Sea Eagles and Eels for wooden spoon favouritism, Boyd and fellow recruit Tyrone Peachey could hold the key for the Titans to compete for a top-eight spot once more this season.
The only worry for the Titans comes in the form of a possible reduction in interchange from eight to six at the conclusion of the 2019 season. With Boyd averaging just 35 minutes per game in 2018, he would be forced to significantly increase his fitness should the regulations change.
Tim Glasby (Newcastle Knights)
While David Klemmer’s five-year deal may have stolen the headlines in the Hunter region, the signing of former Melbourne premiership-winning hardman Tim Glasby will provide the Knights with depth and experience leading into the 2019 campaign.
Much like Ah Mau, Glasby split his time between starting and bench roles in 2018 but looks set to take on a full-time role in the No. 10 jersey this season, relegating Daniel Saifiti, Herman Ese’ese and James Gavet to a much-strengthened interchange bench.
In 21 games for the Storm in 2018 Glasby made 472 tackles and 191 hit-ups on his way to earning a Queensland Origin jersey for the second consecutive season. With the Knights looking to push for the finals for the first time since 2013, coach Nathan Brown reinforced the importance of Glasby’s experience to the team.
“His form is consistent in the small parts of the game and he’s very efficient in both his defensive and attacking areas… Tim being an Origin player and grand final winner is important for our squad, with his quality and experience set to add a lot to our forward pack,” Brown said.
With a lack of halves depth hurting their finals chances in 2018 following the injury to Mitchell Pearce, the Knights have also signed young Warriors halfback Mason Lino, who, despite losing his first ten NRL games, looked a capable player in his many stints replacing the injury-prone Shaun Johnson. Following Johnson’s move to the Sharks, one would have to imagine that both Lino and the Warriors are regretting this move.
John Bateman (Canberra Raiders)
The success of those venturing from the motherland in search of an NRL career has been much varied over the past century, with names such as Ellery Hanley, Sam Burgess, James Graham and Adrian Morley headlining the list of the game’s best English imports. However, one only has to look at the recent struggles of Joe Burgess, Sam Tomkins and Zak Hardaker to see that not every Pom has experienced success Down Under.
In 2019 former Wigan Warrior John Bateman will add his name to this ever-expanding list, joining the Canberra Raiders on a two-year contract. At just 95 kilograms, Bateman is hardly the biggest lock around, but many experts are tipping his added mobility to breathe new life into the Canberra pack this season.
In an interview with Sporting News, former Sharks hooker Michael Ennis likened Bateman to both Anthony Watmough and James Graham, stating, “Someone like John in that middle area of the field and roving around – he’s almost like that lock we’ve forgotten about … You think of guys back in the day like your Nik Kosef’s that were able to ball-play but also get through long minutes and were really physical through that middle third. I think John brings that to the Raiders”.
Bateman will be joined in the nation’s capital by fellow countryman and former Wigan teammate Ryan Sutton, while prolific English try scorer Ryan Hall has joined the Roosters ranks. Hall is currently recovering from an ACL injury suffered last August and is aiming for a return in Round 8.
Ryan Matterson (Wests Tigers)
With his second-row spot at the Roosters stolen by new recruit Angus Crichton, Ryan Matterson has made the trip down the Western Distributor to Concord, where he will be looking to help the Tigers into their first finals series since 2011.
Looking to build on a ninth-place finish in 2018, Matterson will pair with either Michael Chee-Kam or Luke Garner in the Tigers’ second row to start the season, eventually playing alongside veteran Chris Lawrence upon his return from a nasty preseason cheekbone injury.
Starting his career as a five-eighth in the Roosters’ 15th-placed 2016 season, Matterson has since developed into one of the game’s premier second-rowers, scoring five tries and making 595 tackles on his way to the Roosters’ premiership in 2018.
Matterson was a shining light for the Tigers in their preseason loss to the Warriors, setting up a try for halfback Luke Brooks with a nifty offload at the line. The Brooks-Matterson combo will need to fire in the crucial moments of the season, or fans at Leichhardt and Campbelltown will be watching on yet again come September.