One of the best things about looking back on each NRL season is the seemingly bottomless pit of new talent that emerges.
The 2021 season has been no exception, with almost enough rookies to emerge this season to fill two complete 30-man squads.
Here’s my pick of the best prospect to emerge in each club, with the only qualifying criteria being that they must have made their NRL debut for the club in the 2021 season.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Talatau (Junior) Amone
At just 19 years of age, Amone made 11 appearances in the top grade, showing that he’s not afraid to play what’s in front of him and take the opposition on. Still growing, he has played both centre and five-eighth, has great footwork, an improving short kicking game, and should be playing a lot more first grade next year.
Newcastle Knights: Simi Sasagi
The 20-year-old had limited opportunities in the top grade but the Junior Kiwi centre or five-eighth certainly has the talent to be a success.
Melbourne Storm: Dean Ieremia
At just 20 years of age, Ieremia has taken his limited chances, crossing for six tries in his ten games. By no means the finished product, he’s a hard-running winger who knows his way to the line.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks: Luke Metcalf
Metcalf hasn’t looked back since getting his chance and the more he plays the better he gets. He plays the game at top speed, is a fearless runner and knows how to set up his outside men. Can’t wait to see him again next year.
Wests Tigers: Jock Madden
Madden had wraps on him as a junior footballer but has only managed three NRL games thus far, still being held back by the hot and mainly cold Luke Brooks. He has the talent to be the Tigers’ answer to their halfback problem if given the chance.
Sydney Roosters: Sam Walker
It turns out that the pre-season hype about Walker was right. A rare talent and still just 19 years of age, he displays maturity beyond his years and has already shown that he can be a match winner. Could just become one of the best halves in the game.
Brisbane Broncos: TC Robati
Yet another absolute giant, Robati is yet to turn 20 and has already played ten first grade games. He looks to have a big future provided that coach Kevin Walters brings him on slowly and gives him time to develop.
Gold Coast Titans: Jayden Campbell
The 21-year-old son of a gun has been one of the finds of the year and looks to have stolen the fullback spot from State of Origin representative AJ Brimson. Like his father, Preston, he’s elusive, confident, quick and never far from the action.
Parramatta Eels: Viliami Penisini
Aged only 19 and with just a half-dozen appearances in the top grade, Penisini looks like a natural with a big career ahead of him. A strong ball-runner, he has good footwork and is a powerful defender.
Penrith Panthers: Izack Tago
Tago isn’t the biggest backrower going around but at 19 still has some growing to do. He has only had limited opportunities to date but has already shown that he has what it takes for first grade.
North Queensland Cowboys: Heilum Luki
The 20-year-old is already a giant and probably hasn’t finished growing yet. To go with his size and aggression, he’s one of the fastest forwards in the competition. What a weapon!
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: Aaron Schoupp
Just turned 20, Schoupp is a powerful centre who runs hard and tackles harder, and already has 13 first grade games to his name. Let’s hope that he gets a chance to impress next year when all of the Dogs’ new signings arrive.
Canberra Raiders: Xavier Savage
It took Savage just two games to announce himself to the rugby league world in the No.1 jersey, before injury cruelly cut his season short. Blessed with great speed and acceleration, the Raiders will have to find a spot somewhere in their backline next year for this exceptional talent.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles: Jason Saab
His 26 tries in 26 games in his first season at Manly says it all. A young giant who is as fast as anyone in the game, Saab still has a lot to learn, particularly in the area of defence, but what a way to start your career at a new club!
New Zealand Warriors: Reece Walsh
Still only 19 years of age, Walsh is a super talent and already the focal point of the Warriors’ attack. He can score tries, set them up and kick goals. The only question is whether his best position will be at fullback or in the halves? He was called up to represent Queensland in Origin 2 this year before injury ruled him out.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Blake Taaffe
Taaffe has had four full games at fullback this season and hasn’t looked out of place, with a strong running game and the confidence to chime in to the backline. He can also play in the halves, so it will be interesting to see what opportunities are presented to him next year.
Some of these players already looked to be firmly established in first grade, but don’t underestimate the impact of second-year syndrome.
Which of these players will fulfil their potential and who, if any, will fall by the wayside?