When a relationship comes to a conclusion, it’s nice to be able to say that the decision was mutual. Of course, it’s rarely true.
After hearing about the big improvers from Brisbane, Canberra, Canterbury, Cronulla, Gold Coast, Manly, Melbourne and Newcastle in part one, these are the men to watch from the remaining NRL clubs in 2019.
North Queensland Cowboys: Jake Granville
The diminutive Cowboys rake had a disappointing 2018. His speed and illusive darts from dummy-half, which were features of his premiership winning 2015 season, were barely sighted for North Queensland last year.
After the addition of Josh McGuire and Jordan McLean’s return from a long injury lay-off, Granville will now be playing behind arguably the best forward pack in the NRL, meaning he will be provided the platform he needs to wreak havoc around the ruck once again.
Parramatta Eels: Mitchell Moses
From all reports, the struggling halfback has had a strong pre-season with a renewed hunger at training after a difficult 2018 campaign.
The presence of Corey Norman last year stifled the former Tiger, who has shown in the past that he can produce his best form when he is given the reins to his team’s attack.
There is no doubt about it: Parramatta is Moses’ team in 2019. If Moses can take ownership of this side, he could well be in for a big year.
Penrith Panthers: Jack Hetherington
If there’s one thing we learned about Jack Hetherington in 2018 is that he is a little bit mad.
The imposing 107-kilogram forward certainly doesn’t lack any aggression and when the crazy eyes start rolling, he can be a hard man for any opposition to contend with.
The main criticism of the 22-year-old’s game last season was his discipline. Enter Ivan Cleary.
One of the most astute coaches in the game, Cleary’s composure and calming influence will benefit Hetherington immensely.
If he is able to properly harness his aggression, he could be a valuable asset to the Panther’s forward pack in season 2019, particularly after the departure of Trent Merrin and a knee injury to Viliame Kikau that will see him sidelined for the early rounds.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Liam Knight
South Sydney boast several young superstars who are primed for break-through seasons, most notably Campbell Graham and Cameron Murray, who will be knocking on the door of the representative arena.
But it is new recruit Liam Knight who will showcase the most improvement and establish himself as a regular first grader while cementing a place in the Rabbitohs’ formidable forward pack.
Wayne Bennett has a history of recruiting tough, aggressive, no-nonsense forwards and allowing them to flourish. We have seen what he has done with the likes of Michael Weyman and Neville Costigan, who became premiership winners at the Dragons in 2010. Liam Knight fits this mould to a tee.
The former Manly Under-20s captain has had off-field issues and injuries that have hampered the early stages of his promising career.
He began to show glimpses of his potential with a stand-out season in reserve grade while notching up nine first grade appearances for Canberra last season.
With regular game time in the top grade and strong mentors around him in the form of Wayne Bennett and Sam Burgess, Liam Knight could become a household name in 2019.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Blake Lawrie
Lawrie is the classic case of a young forward who will only get better with the experience of mixing it up with the big boys in 2018.
The aggressive tearaway has played 15 NRL games to date, but began to come into his own with increased minutes during the finals series last season, showcasing his imposing physicality and intensity both with ball in hand and in defence.
With the pending suspension of Jack de Belin as well as the likely Origin selections of other key forwards in Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell, Lawrie could thrive with added responsibility this in the Dragons forward pack this year, as he looks to carry the momentum he created at the back end of last season into 2019.
Sydney Roosters: Luke Keary
Hold on, I know what you’re thinking. How could the reigning Clive Churchill medallist and incumbent Australian five-eighth be classified as an improving player?
But Luke Keary is primed to take his game to new heights in 2019.
The confidence the former Rabbitoh will have gained from his 2018 season is immeasurable. Keary received his first taste of senior representative football and took the reins from an injured Cooper Cronk, leading the charge of the Roosters team that snatched the 2018 Grand Final from the Melbourne Storm in emphatic fashion.
Off the back of a stellar end to his season last year, playing in arguably the strongest side in the competition, Keary has a golden opportunity to announce himself as one of the elite halves in the NRL while banging down the door of the State of Origin arena.
New Zealand Warriors: Isaiah Papali’i
After being selected in the New Zealand Test squad at the end of 2018 at only 20 years of age, Papali’i looks set to build upon the promising start he has made to his NRL career.
Although he has been stood down for Round 1, he is set to become an integral part of the Stephen Kearney’s forward pack this season.
The departures of key forwards James Gavet and Simon Mannering has opened the door for the strong-running back-rower to fulfil the potential that he has already showcased throughout his young career and establish himself as a regular starting player in the top grade.
Wests Tigers: Alex Twal
The Lebanese international was a stand-out front-rower coming through the junior grades at Parramatta.
With size and a strong work rate to match, Twal has impressed new coach Michael Maguire enough to earn himself a starting spot in Round 1.
The 22-year-old also had the highest tackle effectiveness percentage in the NRL in 2018, showing he has the ability to establish himself as a cornerstone of the Wests Tigers forward pack, as he looks set for a more prominent role in the side in 2019.