#Top10Tuesday: Rookies set to shine at Nines
There's an excellent chance you have never seen any of the following players take the field but by the time the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines draws to a close on Sunday evening, they could be among the most talked about talents in the game.
Joe Ofahengaue (Broncos)
If big Joe had gotten his way the 90,000 people who crammed into Eden Park this time last year would have been given their first glimpse of his potential, but Broncos coach Anthony Griffin left him sitting on the bench for all three games. With a second NRL pre-season under his belt, Ofahengaue is eager to push for an NRL position in 2015 despite still being eligible to play Holden Cup. For a young front-rower he has a mighty big engine and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the speed of the Nines.
Kierran Moseley (Titans)
A late addition to the Titans' squad in the off-season, Moseley has been so impressive throughout pre-season training that he will be pushing Gold Coast's 2014 Player of the Year, Beau Falloon, for the starting hooker jersey in Round 1. Though he did make his one and only NRL appearance late last season, he was predominantly stuck behind Kevin Kingston and then James Segeyaro at the Panthers. Now the crafty and dynamic hooker is shaping up for a pre-season consisting of the Nines and an appearance in the Indigenous All Stars team, as well as the Titans final trial against the Cowboys on February 21. With plenty of aces up his sleeve to prove to coach Neil Henry he deserves to be in the 17 for Round 1, Moseley will be out to impress.
Sam Lisone (Warriors)
Speed, skill and a whole lot of size is the formidable set of skills that giant young Warriors front-rower Sam Lisone brings as he endeavours to make the jump from Holden Cup to the NRL. Lisone was an integral figure in the Warriors' charge to a third National Youth Competition premiership in 2014 with his bullocking runs and clever hands at the line creating a myriad of line-breaks for his teammates. Named as 18th man for the NRL team on a couple of occasions in 2014, the format of the Nines may see Lisone play only limited minutes but expect him to make a big impact.
Angus Crichton (Rabbitohs)
Not only have the Rabbitohs pinched one of rugby union's brightest young talents, they also stole Angus Crichton away from arch rivals the Sydney Roosters and have fast-tracked his entry into the NRL system. An Australian Schoolboys rugby representative who played at No.8 and in the centres, Crichton had a four-game stint with the Roosters' SG Ball team in 2014 and showed South Sydney coach Michael Maguire enough to warrant a two-year deal to move to Redfern. Crichton joined the senior Rabbitohs' squad on their pre-season training camp in Arizona and should be ideally suited to the style of play at the Nines.
Euan Aitken (Dragons)
Dragons' Auckland Nines captain Benji Marshall believes Euan Aitken is the NRL's next big thing. Aitken isn't yet 20 but the young centre is fighting the good fight as he looks to beat out seasoned professionals Dane Nielsen and Dylan Farrell for a spot in the backline come Round 1. Ticking plenty of coach Paul McGregor's boxes over the pre-season, the Junior Kangaroo should be a perfect fit for the Nines concept. In the right company to continue his development over in Auckland, Aitken is going down all the right paths on his quest for a first grade debut.
Jack Bird (Sharks)
St George Illawarra knew they'd suffered a huge loss when local junior Jack Bird signed with the Sharks for the next two seasons. Spearheading the Red V's under-20s team to a preliminary final berth over a dominant Newcastle Knights outfit including the likes of Test star Sione Mata'utia, Jake Mamo and Joe Tapine, Bird has since moved one step closer to his maiden NRL appearance at Cronulla under the watchful eye of Sharks coach Shane Flanagan. Capable of playing almost anywhere on the paddock, Bird has been earmarked to play in the centres despite the versatile Junior Kangaroo spending plenty of minutes playing elsewhere at the Dragons.
Lamar Liolevave (Wests Tigers)
Lamar Liolevave is quickly proving to be the Tigers' answer to their depleted back row stocks, and his chance to secure a Round 1 berth in the NRL has grown exponentially since being named to play at the Nines. After a dream 2014 season where he featured in every one of the Tigers' NYC games, Liolevave was awarded with a Junior Kiwi berth, club accolades and a two-year contract extension. Now with Bodene Thompson and Adam Blair departing the club, all 185 centimetres and 112 kilograms of Liolevave shouldn't be wearied going up against the game's elite.
Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
Tom Trbojevic is hardly 18 but it hasn't stopped coach Geoff Toovey from picking the flashy fullback to play alongside some of the game's biggest names in Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran at the Auckland Nines. Dubbed a future Kangaroo by plenty of good judges, the quick and agile Trbojevic came onto the under-20s scene in 2013 and quickly turned heads with 20 tries to his name in 17 appearances. With clubs inquiring about Trbojevic's status at the club, with the young gun stuck behind Manly's favourite son Brett Stewart, the Mona Vale junior has remained loyal to the Sea Eagles which is certainly paying off for him to date.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm)
Labelled a Sonny-Bill Williams clone following his dominant displays in the Holden Cup last season, utility forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona could be just what Craig Bellamy is chasing to help boost up his depleted forward stocks. Named to have his first taste of top flight league at the Nines, 18-year-old Asofa-Solomona's physique has already reached an almost unbelievable 198cm and 112kg – a frightening prospect for opposition defenders indeed. If this Wellington product's under-20s performances are anything to go by, it won't be too long until we see him shine on the big stage each and every week.
George Jennings (Panthers)
It's been 12 months since George Jennings has played rugby league. Named in Penrith's inaugural Auckland Nines squad last year, Jennings was readying himself for a big season until a dislocated elbow suffered at the Nines ruled him out for the entire season. Cruelly losing a year from his burgeoning rugby league career, Jennings is beyond hungry to get back to playing and follow in his brother's footsteps – Roosters centre Michael – who he shares plenty of athletic similarities with.
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