‘He was fairly calm and controlled, Justin!’
This is the second instalment in this series on players to watch in the 2021 NRL season.
Gold Coast Titans – Trey Spry
After several lean years the Titans have recruited exceptionally well, putting together a forward pack that should match any side. The break-out contenders from this team though are the backs, who should benefit from quality work being done inside them. For this reason I was tempted to go with Brian Kelly, who I expect this year will show he is a rep-level strike centre.
But given he has already played 86 first-grade games, I’m not sure he can be categorised as breaking out this year. So I’ve instead opted for Trey Spry.
Spry is a 21-year-old outside back who debuted on the wing for the Gold Coast last year. He went on to play a further four games, two at centre and two on the wing, and was a part of the final three wins of the Titans’ season.
His form on the training paddock as much as on the footy field saw the Titans extend his contract last year for a further two years.
At six foot one and 98 kilos and with speed and footwork, Spry has all the tools to be an exciting player in what is promising to be a quality Titans team.
The decision of where to play Tyrone Peachey may determine whether Spry starts in Round 1 next year. If Peachey is used as a utility from the bench, Spry will be competing with the likes of new recruit Patrick Herbert and Phillip Sami for a centre spot.
The Titans’ best 17 has Spry in the centres however I expect he will start the year in the Queensland Cup before earning his way into this side.
Manly Sea Eagles – Josh Schuster
Manly have several young players that could be pushing for consistent first grade this year including rookies Ben Trbojevic and Christian Tuipulotu as well as fringe first graders Haumole Olakau’atu and Jason Saab. Though only one looks to be a future superstar, and that is Josh Schuster.
The nephew of an All Black, Schuster has been destined for first grade since signing with Manly at 14. He was NSW SG Ball player of the year in 2019, captaining the Manly side to the grand final before making one of the more memorable first grade debuts for Manly in 2020.
Injury, however, meant his 2020 season was limited to just that one game. Although still 19, he will be one of the bigger five-eighths in the NRL at six foot and 106 kilos. His big body makes him as much of a threat running the ball as he is when showcasing his ball-playing skills.
Rumours that Kieran Foran has been recruited to play hooker and not his preferred five-eighth position suggests Schuster has the inside running to start in the six jersey for Manly in 2021. However, he will still face stiff competition from Cade Cust in cementing his spot.
Melbourne – Nicho Hynes
Melbourne’s production line of talent sees them being one of the strongest teams if not the strongest team heading in to 2021 despite losing one of the greatest of all time in Cam Smith and a young Origin star in Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Harry Grant and Tui Kamikamica are ready-made replacements for these two losses. The player I’m tipping to break out, however, is Nicho Hynes.
Hynes’ best position is fullback though he is equally at home in the halves or centres. He showed his talents in 11 games last year, playing three games filling in at fullback and playing the other eight as a bench utility. It is this bench role he looks to continue in 2021.
I wouldn’t ordinarily to tip a bench utility as a break-out star candidate, however Craig Bellamy has demonstrated in the past he knows how to get such a player involved in games, rather than simply leaving them sitting on the sideline as injury cover as other clubs do.
We all remember Ryan Papenhuyzen’s debut season when he was sensational coming off the bench and causing havoc against tired defenders around the ruck.
Hynes started to show a similar ability last year and I’m tipping him to further excel doing more of the same this year and for Melbourne to lead the way in showing the value of such a player in exploiting the extension of the six-again rule.
Newcastle Knights – Pasami Saulo
Newcastle was the most difficult club to make a selection for, with a mostly settled line-up and experienced players in the squad outside the 17.
The obvious choice is Tex Hoy, however outside of filling in for games whenever Kalyn Ponga is unavailable, I don’t see him having a role in 2021. I was leaning towards going with Starford To’a, an outside back with the talent to be preferred ahead of more experienced options. Finally I have settled on Pasami Saulo.
Saulo is a 22-year-old front rower who debuted for the Knights in 2018. Despite having three years in first grade, he has only managed 13 games including seven in 2020, all from the bench.
However this should be put down to debuting before he was ready rather than any shortage of talent seeing him struggle to secure his place in the side. It was Saulo’s immense talent, incredible work rate and strong defence that saw him prematurely pushed into the first-grade side.
Saulo will start 2021 again as a fringe first grader behind Origin front rowers Daniel Saifiti and David Klemmer as well as regulars Jacob Saifiti, Mitch Barnett and Josh King.
As is the nature of being a young front rower, he won’t reach the heights of others on this list this year. However, look for 2021 to be the year Saulo finally cements his place on the Knights’ bench and for his strong, high energy contributions in the limited time he gets on the field each week.