Every year the NRL produces a glut of bright new talent as the game’s latest batch of emerging superstars fight it out for Rookie of the Year honours. Season 2013 promises to be no different, with a number of exceptional youngsters already lining up for their first taste of the NRL over the coming months.
In fact, there are so many coming through this year that we had a mighty tough time cutting our list of rookies down to a top 10.
In the end it came down to the opportunities that are likely to present themselves so we’ve had to overlook the likes of Dragons duo Evander Cummins and Jack Stockwell, Canberra playmaker Anthony Milford and Roosters forward Dylan Napa – not because they are lesser talents but because we simply don’t know if they are going to see as much game time in the NRL as some others.
Instead, we’ve picked the 10 rookies we think are going to make a huge impact in the top grade in 2013. And trust us – there is plenty to be excited about!
St George Illawarra Dragons
Is there any young man under as much pressure this season as new St George Illawarra halfback Josh Drinkwater? Sure, the 21-year-old might not be thrown into the lion’s den straight away given that veteran Nathan Fien is the other option to partner Jamie Soward in the halves, but rest assured his time will come sooner rather than later.
If there is one area that the Dragons have struggled in over the past few seasons – even when they were grinding opponents into oblivion on their way to the 2010 premiership – it’s their attack, so there will be plenty of pressure on Drinkwater to help turn that around. Still, he comes with a superb pedigree. Captain of Manly’s NYC side the past two years, he topped the competition for both try assists (38) and line-break assists (34) last season – despite the Sea Eagles finishing a disappointing 14th.
Michael Chee Kam
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Chased by a number of NRL clubs last season, including his former side Canberra who were desperate to keep him, it was Manly that ultimately secured one of the competition’s most prized young signatures with Michael Chee Kam making his way up the Federal and Hume Highways to take up a healthy three-year deal.
The hulking back-rower is certain to make his NRL debut for the Sea Eagles this season – possibly earlier than expected given the injury to Glenn Stewart – and could well prove to be a surprise X-factor in the absence of Canterbury-bound star Tony Williams.
In 25 games for Canberra’s NYC side last season the 21-year-old scored 11 tries, averaged 144 metres, produced 43 offloads and added a whopping 103 tackle-breaks.
Certain to feature at some stage in Canterbury’s 2013 campaign – probably sooner rather than later given James Graham’s suspension – the impending debut of monstrous prop David Klemmer is easily the most anticipated of the coming season.
Weighing in at 120 kilograms and still just 19 years of age, Klemmer was a standout for the NYC side last season on their way to the minor premiership with an average 180 metres per game to go with 54 offloads and 134 tackle-breaks.
Impressively, he was the only player in the competition to run for more than 4000 metres and was a clear winner of the Dally M Under-20s Player of the Year award. We’d suggest you keep an eye out for him but trust us – he’ll be difficult to miss.
A local junior, having played for the Yarrawarrah Tigers as a youngster, impressive No.9 Michael Lichaa has already been tipped to make his NRL debut this season by Sharks coach Shane Flanagan.
A skilful and creative dummy-half, the 19-year-old had a number of clubs chasing his signature last season before signing on for another two years in The Shire. Lichaa represented NSW in their 18-14 win over Queensland in the Under-20s State of Origin clash last season and the Junior Kangaroos in their 48-16 thrashing of the Junior Kiwis at the end of the year. His attacking skills are his trademark: he led the way for Cronulla last season in both the line-breaks (15) and tackle-breaks (89) categories, as well as contributing six try assists and six line-break assists. First-elect rake Isaac De Gois can expect to feel plenty of heat from this youngster.
The younger brother of North Queensland duo Ashton and Tariq Sims, Korbin is rated by many astute judges as the most promising of the three and his exploits as a junior certainly suggest he has a thrilling career ahead.
A powerful and versatile forward, the 21-year-old was named at prop in the 2012 Toyota Cup Team of the Year but represented the Junior Kangaroos in the second row a few weeks later.
His performances for the Knights’ Under-20s team last season were exceptional. In 18 appearances he averaged an impressive 150.7 metres per game to go with 12 line-breaks, 34 offloads and 78 tackle-breaks. While his brothers are both eligible to represent NSW, Korbin is set to become another in the list of “those that got away”, having played his first senior game in Brisbane at the age of 16 and representing Queensland in last year’s Under-20s State of Origin clash.
Highly rated Broncos back-rower Caleb Timu announced himself as an Origin player of the future with a stunning performance for Queensland’s Under-18s side in a 24-18 win over NSW last season.
Evoking memories of former renowned rampaging great Gorden Tallis, Timu scored two second-half tries to secure the comeback victory – including a barnstorming run in which he skittled four Blues defenders on his way to the try line.
Still just 18 years of age, he has bulked up further to hit 108 kilograms over the off-season and is almost certain to make his NRL debut come the Broncos’ annual mid-season Origin crunch.
In 2012, Timu led the way for the junior Broncos in tries (19), line-breaks (23), offloads (41) and tackle-breaks (122). He is definitely an all-round package.
All the pre-season hype out Bondi way has centred around the arrival of gun quarter Michael Jennings, James Maloney, Luke O’Donnell and of course Sonny Bill Williams, but could it be that the Roosters’ X-factor in 2013 is actually a little-known 21-year-old?
Towering over his teammates at an imposing 190cm and 115 kilograms, Evans is likely to become a regular part of the side’s front row rotation alongside Martin Kennedy and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves this season following the departure of Mose Masoe to Penrith. Surprisingly athletic for such a big man, Evans has the ability to play big minutes and has been a standout for the NYC side over the past two seasons (being named their NYC Player of the Year in 2011). Last year he averaged 177 metres per game to go with his eight tries, 14 line-breaks and 109 tackle-breaks.
Nineteen-year-old Toka Likiliki joins his older brother Tonga at the Knights in 2013 after a particularly impressive 2012 season with the Warriors’ Toyota Cup side.
Somewhat in the mould of NSW and Australian forward Tony Williams, Likiliki is best known as a prop but his surprising turn of speed has also seen him spend time on the wing while at the Warriors – scoring three tries in just his second game out wide against the Gold Coast last July.
A devastating runner of the football, he averaged 126.6 metres per game last season as well as contributing eight tries, 10 line-breaks and 105 tackle-breaks. He also represented the Junior Kiwis in October.
Vaipuna Tia Kilifi
The departure of so many of Penrith’s most experienced players over the off-season means a number of promising youngsters are likely to get their shot in the top grade this season and no debut is anticipated as keenly as that of 20-year-old back-rower Vaipuna Tia Kilifi.
Last year’s Under-20s captain at the Panthers, he was not only named the side’s Player of the Year but also a member of the Dally M Under-20s Team of the Year.
The former Australian Schoolboys representative topped the NYC competition last season for offloads with 68 and ranked 12th for tackle-breaks with 125.
Twenty-one-year-old Tupou certainly stamped his mark in 2012 – helping the Newtown Jets win the NSW Cup premiership, being named NSW Cup Winger of the Year and making his NRL debut for the Sydney Roosters in Round 24.
The athletic speedster scored his maiden hat-trick in just his second first grade game against Wests Tigers in Round 25 – the first coming from a spectacular vertical leap that has become his trademark out wide.
He recently signed a new two-year contract extension that will see him remain at the Roosters until at least the end of 2015. Expect him to feature heavily in 2012.