Top 10: 2014 Breakthrough Seasons

 

NRL.com looks at 10 players who took their game to another lever in 2014.

Ben Hunt (Broncos)

The Broncos halfback's amazing 2014 was the epitome of a 'breakthrough' season. Before this year, Hunt had managed to play 90 games in the NRL (mostly from the bench) as he continued to be overlooked for a starting berth in the Broncos halves. This season, Hunt made the Brisbane No.7 jersey his own. After producing 19 try assists (eighth in the NRL) and 20 line breaks (third), Hunt not only earned 18th man duties in Origin this year but also carved a place in Tim Sheens' Kangaroos squad for the current Four Nations tournament. With Daly Cherry-Evans (hip) battling to be fit for this week's clash with England, Hunt's stunning season may continue with a possible Test debut.

Josh Jackson (Bulldogs)

Having played every game in the NRL for the Bulldogs this year, Jackson earned himself plenty of plaudits for his consistent performances. He earned his second Country Origin jersey, was called into the Blues squad as a developing player, played in a grand final then capped it off with a call-up to Sheens' injury-hit Kangaroos Four Nations squad. In 28 games in 2014, the Gulgong Terriers junior produced the 10th most tackles competition-wide (860 tackles), 60 tackle breaks and just under 100 running metres per game.

Josh Mansour (Panthers)

The Penrith winger wasn't even  guaranteed a wing spot at the beginning of the season at the foot of the mountains. But Mansour took his opportunity with both hands with a dominant performance against Newcastle in Penrith's opening game of the year and hasn't looked back since. In what has been a whirlwind season for the 24-year-old, Mansour now has a Test cap to his name. Having racked up 162 tackle breaks (most in NRL), 15 tries (12th) and 3,755 metres (fifth) it is hard to argue with Sheens' decision to hand the former Rabbitoh a Test debut.

Tim Lafai (Bulldogs)

Even before his amazing hat-trick heroics in the Bulldogs' qualifying final upset over the Storm, the Canterbury-Bankstown centre was already having an amazing season. Lafai, who was a massive reason for the Bulldogs' late-season charge to the grand final, was rewarded with a Samoan berth for his efforts this year and will be sure to make the Australians and Kiwis nervous when he returns to the Four Nations tournament after his wedding celebrations last weekend. Lafai's efforts in the blue and white of Canterbury-Bankstown will ensure his season was one to remember considering the 23-year-old finished the year with 14 tries, 102.1 metres per game and 116 tackle breaks (third in the NRL). 

Michael Morgan (Cowboys)

When Lachlan Coote went down with a season-ending knee injury at the Auckland Nines, it looked like a crushing blow for the Cowboys' 2014 hopes. Michael Morgan, a usual suspect in the halves, wasn't the likeliest of substitutes, but new coach Paul Green threw everyone a curveball by giving Morgan first crack at the back ahead of some other young outside backs. Morgan was a revelation as a fullback, going on to play in every game for North Queensland in 2014, and racked up 20 try assists (fifth in the NRL), 80 tackle breaks (20th) and 1150 kick return metres (fifth) along the way.

James Segeyaro (Panthers)

Segeyaro lived up to his livewire potential in 2014, proving a constant threat out of dummy half at the Panthers. A huge reason for Penrith's success, Segeyaro displaced club captain Kevin Kingston in the pecking order when the veteran went down with injury earlier this year only to see out his final season in rugby league playing NSW Cup. The 23-year-old Segeyaro proved himself a genuine 80-minute hooker while Kingston was out, and finished 2014 with 75 tackle breaks, 15 line breaks and an average of 33.4 tackles in his 24 games.

Aidan Guerra (Roosters)

The Roosters enforcer took his impressive form from 2013 to even greater heights this season. After winning a premiership with the Tricolours last year, Guerra was able to back it up with 23 games with the Roosters,  playing in all three Origins with Queensland (going from bolter to automatic starter in the process) and then making his Test debut last weekend. Guerra punched out 55 tackle breaks as well as producing 30.7 tackles and 91.4 metres on average per game for the Roosters in 2014. 

Josh Starling (Sea Eagles)

Some Sea Eagles fans may have been asking "Josh who?" when he was named to start in Manly's pack way back in Round 1. The former Rabbitohs prop went across to Brookvale for a chance in the NRL this year and it paid off handsomely with the 24-year-old featuring in every game for the club in 2014. While his former club went on to win the competition, Starling can be proud of carving out his own niche in the NRL. The Helensburgh Tigers junior averaged 22.4 tackles and 91.4 metres per game.

Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)

Former North Queensland and now Titans coach Neil Henry never really gave Taumalolo a solid crack in the NRL. Concerned by his defence, Henry moved on without giving the 21-year-old a consistent run in the top grade. Paul Green had other ideas – the rookie coach unleashing the wrecking ball on the world to great effect, with the young back-rower finally making his Kiwi debut last weekend. His defensive capabilities weren't an issue this year with the Otahuhu Leopards junior finishing with a tackle efficiency of 92.7 per cent. It was his running game that really shone, as he racked up the 12th most metres in the competition (3245).

Matt Moylan (Panthers)

The fact there are three Panthers on this list tells a story about how astutely Ivan Cleary and Phil Gould have been building their squad in recent times. Like Mansour and Segeyaro, Panthers fullback Moylan was central to his side's impressive run in 2014. The 23-year-old impressed with his clutch plays, including two match-winning field goals and a sideline conversion after the full-time siren. Sheens recently named the St Patricks Blacktown junior to replace the US-bound Jarryd Hayne in the Kangaroos squad, and why not? In 26 games, Moylan produced 18 try assists (10th in the NRL), nine try saves (equal fifth), 68 tackle breaks and a handy 960 kick return metres (seventh).