NSW have squared the State of Origin series, smashing Queensland 44-12 in a carve up at Optus Stadium in Perth.
In May last year, I published an article in which I picked a team of young guns expected to make a noise in the 2021 season.
All were aged 20 years or under at the time and looking forward to 2021 being the year to establish themselves. So just how did they progress in last season?
1. Reece Walsh
He had a break-out season in 2021, scored nine tries from 16 games for the Warriors and firmly established himself in their number one jersey. He also went within a whisker of making his Origin debut for Queensland.
2. Jason Saab
Saab went from disgruntled Dragon to Manly speed machine, scoring an incredible 26 tries from 27 games.
3. Tesi Niu
He really looked the goods for the Broncos and proved a danger every time he had the ball, particularly after shifting to fullback in Round 15.
4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
He’s now a Cowboys crowd favourite and scored eight tries from 13 games in 2021. He’s clearly one of the fastest players in the competition and made his Queensland Origin debut in Game 3 last year.
5. Charlie Staines
The Penrith flyer had a strong second season, notching 14 tries in his 21 games in the top grade.
6. Phoenix Crossland
Still unable to fully shake off injuries, Crossland only managed nine games in the top grade for the Knights in 2021, and will be hoping for a better season this year.
7. Sam Walker
For an 18-year-old, Walker had one hell of a year in 2021, and looks set for even bigger things this year in a hopefully injury-free Roosters team.
8. Spencer Leniu
Leniu was as solid as a rock all year, and will be pushing for a starting spot in the Panthers’ front row this year.
9. Jackson Topine
Topine made his first-grade debut for the Dogs in 2021 and battled a few injuries to chalk up eight games in the top grade during the year. He’ll be hoping for more opportunities this season.
10. Shawn Blore
Blore was held back by injuries early last season but then went on to play 13 games in the top grade for the Tigers, proving he can mix it with the best of them. Unfortunately, it looks like injuries will seriously limit his game time in 2022.
11. Matt Doorey
Doorey looked the goods when he got his chance in the top grade for the Dogs in the back end of the season and played 13 games during the year.
12. Heilum Luki
Luki is not just a powerful ball runner, but is blessed with speed to burn. He established himself in the Cowboys’ top grade team by Round 11 and has been there ever since.
13. Josh Schuster
Big, powerful and with excellent ball skills, Schuster made every post a winner with Manly last year and played 21 games in the top grade.
14. Tanah Boyd
Incredibly, Boyd is about to enter his fourth season of first grade and is still only 21. He only played six first-grade games last year and could be the odd man out this year in the Titans’ halves shuffle.
15. TC Robati
Another young giant to emerge from the Brisbane system, Robati is an absolute weapon who finished the 2021 season strongly with ten games in the top grade.
16. Rocco Berry
Berry looks like a natural and will be hard to shift from the Warriors’ right centre position if his eight games in the top grade in 2021 are anything to go by.
17. Joseph Suaalii
Suaalii’s much-heralded debut season as a 17-year-old turned out to be somewhat of an anti-climax when he was injured in Round 16 but he still showed enough in his five first-grade games to indicate that he can live up to the hype.
So that was quite a line-up last year, and the production line of young players shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. You get the sense that the average age of players in NRL squads is dropping all the time.
To illustrate the strength of the production line, here’s the class of 2022, made up of players in first-grade squads who are currently 20 years of age or younger.
Note that players I have named in previous rookie squads who are still young enough to qualify for this team haven’t been included. Current ages are in brackets.
1. Xavier Savage (19)
Canberra flyer and emerging fullback/winger.
2. Dominic Young (20)
Newcastle prodigy who is nearly two metres tall and one of the fastest players in the game.
3. Aaron Schoupp (20)
Hard-running Canterbury centre.
4. Will Penisini (20)
One of the most exciting players to emerge from the Parramatta system in many years.
5. Selwyn Cobbo (19)
A truly electrifying Broncos outside back with speed to burn.
6. Jayden Sullivan (20)
Dragons half who has all the skills to cement his first-grade career this year.
7. Toby Sexton (20)
Has a golden opportunity to make the Titans’ halfback position his own.
8. Tuku Hau Tapuha (20)
An absolute giant who could make a name for himself with the Roosters this year.
9. Jake Simpkin (20)
Skilful young Wests dummy half.
10. Sione Fainu (20)
Another of the Fainu clan to emerge from the Manly system.
11. Jack Howarth (19)
Outstanding Storm prospect already signed to a long-term contract.
12. Thomas Fletcher (18)
South Sydney second-row tyro and yet another product of St Gregory’s College.
13. Jeremiah Nanai (19)
Exciting Cowboys back-row prospect .
14. Bailey Biondi-Odo (20)
Talented Bulldogs utility player already with eight first-grade games under his belt.
15. Davvy Moale (18)
Emerging young giant looking for a place in the Souths front-row rotation.
16. Valingi Kepu (19)
A huge front-row prospect for the Warriors.
17. Otukinekina Kepu (19)
Valingi’s twin, and just as big.
It will be interesting to see where these players are in their careers this time next year.