St George Illawarra have kept their top-two hopes alive after coming from behind to defeat the Warriors 26-6 on an historic day for NRLW at Mt Smart Stadium.
Penrith Panthers: Nathan Cleary
With the Penrith Panthers having a very disappointing and underwhelming start to the season, it’s hard to see which of their young player will emerge as a legitimate star. The likes of Nathan Cleary, Viliame Kikau and James Fisher-Harris have all underperformed in the first ten rounds of the season.
Although there might be a lot of turmoil in the locker room, this isn’t an excuse for a two-from-ten start, so my selection is Nathan Cleary. Cleary had a tremendous season last year, earning his first State of Origin cap and leading the Panthers to fifth spot on the ladder before being bounced out by the Sharks in the semi-finals. Although Clearly has taken a step back this year, I believe with the absence of Maloney this weekend and playing with his old halves partner Jarome Luai, Cleary will strike some form to put question in Fitler’s mind for Origin selection.
Gold Coast Titans: AJ Brimson
The Gold Coast Titans have definitely been one of the most frustrating teams to watch in 2019. On paper they’re not a bad side, with many players to look forward to emerging, but this team just keeps finding a way to lose and blow big leads. With this in mind, the rookie speedster AJ Brimson has had his chance to shine. The young gun from the Gold Coast has been a bright spot for this struggling Titans team. His ability to create something out of nothing is up there with some of the best in the league, and his blinding pace makes him something all Gold Coast fans should be looking forward to. When Gordon gets back, expect to see him on the bench. But as the years progress AJ Brimson will become a household name.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs: Jack Cogger
The Bulldogs have a number of young pieces that scream star potential in the first ten rounds of the season. Whether it be mini Jamal Idris, Jayden Okunbor or youngster fullback Nick Meaney, the cream of the crop is their newfound five-eight, Jack Cogger. Since coming into the side Cogger has had an immediate impact resulting in some promising signs for the Bulldogs. Cogger has been praised by all his teammates and coaching staff for his ability to direct the team around the paddock. The Bulldogs have little expectation for this season but expect Cogger’s play to result in some wins for the blue and white.
North Queensland Cowboys: Gideon Gela-Mosby
So far in 2019 the Cowboys haven’t really had many young stars emerge as potential building blocks for their franchise. Mitchell Dunn off the bench has looked good in patches, Tom Opicic has looked promising starting at centre, Enari Tuala has been in and out of the side a lot, but I’m going to go with someone who is playing their first game of 2019 this weekend, fan favourite Gideon Gela-Mosby. Mosby was instrumental in their Auckland 9s win back in 2014 but since then has struggled to get a start in their top side. With the injury to Ben Hampton, Mosby is expected to have the winger position on lock for weeks to come, where he can really cement his spot in the top side. Expect Mosby to be very entertaining for North Queensland fans and spark this team, who are beginning to find some form.
St George Illawarra: Blake Lawrie and Zac Lomax
With the Dragons having a mixed start to the beginning of the year, they are one win away from turning their season around. Injuries throughout the first ten rounds have given both young guns Blake Lawrie and Zac Lomax starting sports in the red V. I couldn’t split the two, and watching them in the 2018 finals series has made me very confident in this decision.
Lawrie is an extremely gutsy player who plays with a lot of heart and has started the season off very well. He has earnt his starting spot, pushing veterans like Korbin Sims and Jeremy Latimore to the bench. Lomax, on the other hand, has only found himself in the starting spot the last few weeks because of injuries. The 19-year-old has been showing off his ability, playing almost anywhere coach Paul McGregor puts him. Lomax has finally been promoted to the starting fullback role this weekend after Matt Dufty has been dropped.
With Lawrie putting pen to paper and resigning with the club as well as Lomax getting the starting one jersey, dragons fans have a lot to look forward to in the future.
Brisbane Broncos: Payne Haas
This choice was simple for me. Payne Haas has been a weapon of mass destruction for the Brisbane Broncos since returning to the side after suspension and has easily become one of the most promising young players in the NRL. Haas is currently averaging 160-plus metres per game to go along with 36 tackles and 3.4 tackle breaks. I love this kid and think he deserves his shot at Origin. The Broncos just need to ensure this young man stays out of trouble off the field so that he can be maximised while playing. With Haas being the future of the Broncos and leading this young forward pack, expect to see many more wins coming the Broncos way in the back end of this season with Haas leading the charge.
New Zealand Warriors: Patrick Herbert
With the emergence of Patrick Herbert, coach Steven Kearny has been forced to remove international star Solomona Kata out of the line-up. Herbert has only just made his way into the team this season and has not disappointed. He’s been a huge part of the Warriors success over the last few weeks and is forming a nice little combination with new teammate Kodi Nikorima. Expect Herbert to be a Kiwi international in the next few years and become one of the most dominant centres in the game with his outstanding ability in both aspects of the game.
Cronulla sharks: Briton Nikora
Much like Payne Haas for the Brisbane Broncos, this selection was very easy. Briton Nikora has burst onto the scene in 2019 for the Sharks, forming a lethal combination on the right edge with Shaun Johnson. The sharks started the season hot with this pair leading the charge. Since Johnson’s injury, Nikora hasn’t been playing his best footy, but when Johnson returns every opposition’s left edge should be extremely worried. I expect Nikora to keep having a tremendous rookie season, winning the rookie of the year award and become a Kiwi international possibly by the end of the year, if not in years to come. This kid is destined for great things in the future. The Sharkies have found a gem which will prove to play a big part in their finals campaign this season.
Paramatta Eels: Reed Mahoney
The Paramatta Eels have had a very up and down start to the season, luckily finding themselves in the top eight. This has been due to some tremendous play of young guns Mitchell Moses, Maika Sivo and Shaun Lane. But I believe the impact Reed Mahoney is having on this side is much more than anybody else. This young kid has a lot of potential and a bright future ahead with this club. Mahoney has added the perfect dynamic to this big Eels forward pack and complements both halves very well. His impact on the team was best represented when coach Brad Arthur moved him to the bench for a game, which resulted in the side getting beaten by 54 points. I expect the Eels to be a top-eight side this season, knocking off some heavyweights while getting there and for Mahoney to be in talk of the next young Queensland hooker.
Wests Tigers: Alex Twal
The Wests Tigers have had a very good start to 2019, which many didn’t expect. With old-timer Robbie Farah leading the charge, he’s taking some very talented young forwards with him. Ryan Matterson, Luke Garner and Alex Twal have helped contribute heavily to the success of this Tigers team. These three young players have led to the Tigers to the fifth-best defensive rating in the competition and ninth-best offensive efficiency in the league. It was a very hard choice to split these three, but I have gone with Lebanese international Alex Twal. Twal is a big, strong, hard nosed-front-rower who is always looking for work. He and Robbie Farah have created a dynamic duo in the middle of the field. Twal is an 80-minute player, which is very uncommon in the modern game. I expect Twal to continue growing as a player and help the Tigers secure a top-eight finish.
Newcastle Knights: Kalyn Ponga
Anybody who watches the Knights knows how easy of a decision this is. Kalyn Ponga is quickly becoming one of the best-known players in the game and one of the game’s best. With lightning speed and footwork that could break anyone’s ankles, Ponga is the best young gun on this list. The Knights have surrounded him with great talent and are letting him play his natural game. Ponga’s move to fullback was a genius decision after his experiment at five-eightj wasn’t resulting in wins. The Knights are one of the most entertaining teams in the NRL at the moment and look destined for big things in the near future.
Manly Sea Eagles: Lachlan Croker
Manly have been the most surprising team so far in the NRL, knocking off heavyweights Canberra and South Sydney, plugging their way to fifth spot on the ladder. Injuries plaguing this side have forced many players to step up and emerge as NRL quality starters. Lachlan Croker and Kane Elgey have formed a great halves combination which has resulted in wins for the club. Unfortunately for Croker, once Daly Cherry-Evans comes back it will most likely force him out of the side. Croker has been a great inclusion from the club and will continue to fight for his spot and lead the team around the park successfully. Crocker is a name to watch out for in the future as he has a massive upside.
Canberra Raiders: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Wow! This is just how I feel when I watch this youngster go at it. The Warriors junior who has already represented the Cook Islands on an international level has finally found his home down in Canberra. Nicoll-Klokstad just screams potential when you watch him play and reminds me of a young Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. And, no, not because of their long last names; it’s because of their ability to create when the ball is in their hands. Klokstad is a pivotal part in the success of this new-look Canberra side, who should finish in the top four. This team will be hard to beat full strength, and come finals time, if Klokstad keeps on impressing, they could have a deep run come September.
Sydney Roosters: Latrell Mitchell
The Sydney Roosters have some very impressive young backs that you could put in this conversation but none more impressive than Australian international Latrell Mitchell. Mitchell played a huge role last season in the Roosters grand final run and looks like he is on the same path this season. Watching Mitchell play says it all. Expect Mitchell to continue growing as a player and become more of a threat than he already is.
Melbourne Storm: Ryan Papenhuyzen
After watching this kid get a chance the past two weeks, he has not disappointed one bit. It seems as though the Melbourne Storm have done it again and fostered there newest great young talent. Papenhuyzen started his first NRL game last weekend and played the game of his life, scoring a full field try and being the spark Melbourne needed to win. Although Papenhuyzen has been moved back to the bench this week with the return of Jerome Hughes, I believe that he is the long-term solution for the fullback role down in Melbourne and has star potential written all over him.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Tevita Tatola
South Sydney are the top team in the NRL and the in-form side of the competition. With veterans leading the way this success, it is incredibly rare to see such a young player have such an impact. Tevita Tatola has added much-needed youth to this South Sydney pack that is up there with the best of them.
Tatola has burst onto the scene out of nowhere and is one of the best rotational props in the game. His ability to play with a premiership-winning forward pack and be one of their main go-forwards men amazes me. All reports out of the club are that this youngster is loved and a great addition to the team. I expect Tatola to keep contributing to Souths success, push both Burgess twins for a starting spot as well as representing his native country in the near future.