Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
This year’s Rookie of the Year battle has come down to a race between three with George Burgess, Anthony Milford and Matt Moylan fighting out for the honour, according to inaugural Rookie of the Year winner Matt Rodwell.
Rodwell, now an NRL Video Referee, claimed the prestigious gong while playing for Newcastle back in 1992, the first time a Rookie of the Year award has been included as part of the Dally M awards, and he knows what it takes to adjust to the rigours of the NRL at such a young age.
NRL.com has ploughed through the stats of all 71 rookies to have burst onto the scene in 2013 and compiled our Rookie Team of the Year, but Rodwell said there were three who stood out in particular with South Sydney’s man mountain Burgess leading the way.
“He has been barnstorming,” Rodwell said of big George. “I think he has been well used by Michael Maguire in terms of bringing him on at the right time. He is not necessarily starting all the time but he has done this year what a bench player is expected to do – lift the side and make a physical impact with the bonus being that he is scoring tries. He is just so big and he has been a sensation for such a young guy.”
In Canberra, Anthony Milford has been particularly impressive both in the halves where he started the year and now at fullback, having pushed Reece Robinson out to the wing.
“I watched a few games of his when he was playing under-20s and I had read reports that he was a star of the future,” Rodwell continued. “His footwork is terrific and he is prepared to take it one off the ruck on play two and get belted as well. That’s a great sign for a young player – to show no fear and put your hand up to do the hard yards for his team. He can be as good as Ben Barba, I reckon. In open space his footwork is sensational.”
And then there is Moylan.
“He came out of the blue for mine but almost picked up where Lachlan Coote left off,” Rodwell said. “He reminds me of when Lachlan first burst onto the scene. He is poised under pressure, he brings the ball back and makes good metres as well as breaks and he has been eye-catching for me. It’s a shame the salary cap impacted upon his ability to play NRL but he is a really good find and he has shored up that fullback spot for the Panthers. Next year they’ll have Coote coming back, who can play fullback or at six, as well as Soward and Isaac John so they’ve got some options now.”
Our Rookie Team of the Year features players from 11 of the 16 NRL clubs with Souths and the injury-ravaged Wests Tigers boasting three players each.
But while Rodwell singled out Burgess, Milford and Moylan as the stars of the show, he said he was amazed by the overall quality of the youngsters coming through in 2013 with young Tigers winger David Nofoaluma an example of just how far these rising stars have come in recent years.
“The try he scored the other day (Round 20) was out of this world,” he said. “The special awareness of these players of where they are on the field is just out of this world compared to five or 10 years ago. I don’t know how they are able to comprehend where the sideline is or where the touch in-goal is.
“It’s just a very good group of rookies coming through.”
NRL.com Rookie Team of the Year
1. Matthew Moylan (Panthers)
2. Sosaia Feki (Sharks)
3. Ngani Laumape (Warriors)
4. Dylan Walker (Rabbitohs)
5. David Nofoaluma (Tigers)
6. Peta Hiku (Sea Eagles)
7. Anthony Milford (Raiders)
8. Paul Vaughan (Raiders)
9. Sam Irwin (Titans)
10. George Burgess (Rabbitohs)
11. Tohu Harris (Storm)
12. Peni Terepo (Eels)
13. Adam Docker (Panthers)
14. James Tedesco (Tigers)
15. Jordan Kahu (Broncos)
16. Jack Buchanan (Tigers)
17. Luke Keary (Rabbitohs)
The local junior was handed his opportunity earlier this season following injury to Lachlan Coote and Wes Naiqama and has played a key role in the Panthers’ shock rise up the NRL ladder. One of the youngsters the club is banking their future on, his debut against Parramatta in Round 7 was labelled one of the greatest debuts of all time. He’s averaging 113 metres and two tackle busts a match.
The young Kiwi has taken his opportunity with both hands at Cronulla this season, having scored five tries in 11 games and averaged 101 metres since debuting in Round 8. He won the Toyota Cup title twice with the Warriors in 2010 and 2011 but has looked right at home in the top grade this year. He has a great ability to sniff out a try.
A powerful runner in the mould of Warriors teammate Konrad Hurrell, Laumape has been the surprise packet of the Warriors’ season. Laumape only took up rugby league a few years ago and his ascent has been rapid indeed, but although he is still a work in progress his raw power and ability to find the line has him tipped for a big future.
One of a number of South Sydney youngsters on the rise, Walker has benefited from the Rabbitohs’ surge to the top of the NRL ladder this season. Still just 18, the local junior has become a fixture in the Souths backline in 2013 with six tries in nine games including some scintillating solo runs. He was recently signed to a new three-year deal.
If you need any evidence that Nofoaluma is a star of the future, you need only witness the stunning try he scored against Manly in Round 20. Leaping high to haul in a chip kick with the defence looming, Nofoaluma’s body was flying over the sideline but in an incredible display of athleticism he managed to plant the ball one-handed before he hit the ground. That try will always remain a career highlight but no doubt there will be many more to come – in nine games he has scored seven tries, averaged 113 metres and made 55 tackle-breaks.
The former Warrior arrived at the Sea Eagles this season looking for an opportunity and his chance came when regular fullback Brett Stewart was ruled out for almost two months with injury. Hiku filled Stewart’s boots brilliantly with a combination of clever ball-playing and the ability to follow the football. A versatile footballer, he can play in the halves or wider out in the centres if need be.
What a find Milford has been for the Raiders! The young Queenslander made his NRL debut in Round 5 and impressed coming off the bench at halfback in place of Josh McCrone. He has since earned a starting spot at fullback and scored a scintillating try in his first starting game when he stood up his opposite number and raced 50 metres untouched. He’s averaging almost a line-break a game. Maroons coach Mal Meninga will be watching closely over the coming years.
Young prop Vaughan has certainly made his mark since debuting for the Raiders in Round 8 this year. At 108kg, the tough young prop is renowned for his physical approach for the game and he hasn’t looked out of place deputising in the absence of veterans David Shillington and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs at different times in 2013. Having represented the NSW Residents this year, he recently signed a new two-year deal with the club.
Nineteen-year-old hooker Irwin was a surprise call-up at the start of the year but settled into life in the top grade so quickly that he became a regular on the Gold Coast bench – forming a great partnership with starting hooker Matt Srama. Irwin is renowned as the strongest player at the Titans, regularly out-performing the bigger forwards in the gym.
No player has made such an impact on the NRL this season as George Burgess. The giant front-rower has proved near unstoppable in the middle for the Rabbitohs, his powerful runs earning him six tries along with an average 140 metres per game and a whopping 76 tackle-breaks. He leads the league for tries scored directly from his play-the-balls with 14 and is a major reason for South Sydney’s success this year. Could he become one of the game’s greats?
Melbourne’s big three receive most of the plaudits down south but the club’s success over the years has also been built on the ability to find hard-working forwards willing to get down and dirty and settle into the Storm’s systems. Tohu Harris fits the mould perfectly. The hard-running Kiwi boasts a no-nonsense style, rarely offloading but averaging 96 metres per game in 2013. He has played all 18 games this year.
It’s been a tough year out Parramatta way but among their plethora of rookies handed an opportunity by coach Ricky Stuart there have been some shining lights. One of them is Peni Terepo who looks to be the type of back-rower the Eels have been missing in recent years – he runs hard and loves nothing more than leaving defenders sprawled in his wake. Recently re-signed for a further two years when many others have been shown the door, he scored a barnstorming try against Sydney Roosters in Round 13 when he bumped off four players on his way to the line.
After a tough few years at the foot of the mountains, back-rower Docker typifies the optimism that is starting to permeate the new-look Panthers under coach Ivan Cleary. One of a number of highly rated youngsters handed his chance in 2013, Docker boasts an intimidating defensive prowess and tremendous work rate with the ball. Has re-signed until the end of 2015.
After overcoming a horrific injury suffered in his NRL debut last year, Tedesco has started to repay the faith shown in him at the Tigers with a series of impressive displays in 2013. Ironically, the club’s crippling injury toll has seen him take on great responsibility this year but he has been a standout with an average 106 metres per game and 36 tackle-breaks. Renowned as a brilliant support player.
Exciting youngster Kahu has been a shining light in an otherwise topsy-turvy year for the Broncos. The speedster debuted in Round 4 and proved a handy foil during the representative season when Brisbane’s stocks were decimated. He scored an impressive double against Parramatta in Round 9.
Young prop Buchanan was thrown to the wolves at the start of the season as injuries decimated the Wests Tigers’ forward pack, but he looked right at home from the outset despite being the youngest starting prop in the NRL. An old-fashioned front-rower who loves to just roll forward, he is one of only two Tigers to have played all 18 games so far in 2013.
The Rabbitohs have huge raps on this young playmaker and have moved heaven and earth to ensure he remains in the red and green long into the future. Boasting tremendous ball skills and good speed, the Queensland product scored a scintillating solo try against the Gold Coast in Round 20 in which he produced a classic show-and-go before racing 50 metres to score.