While household names Issac Luke, Mitchell Pearce and Adam Reynolds went out and shined and others like Blake Ayshford, Sisa Waqa and Chris Heighinton turned back the clock at the NRL Auckland Nines, these 10 youngsters provided us an exciting glimpse into the future with breakout performances.
10. Kurt Mann (Storm)
With the Storm's five-eighth spot still up for grabs, the 21-year-old did no harm to his chances of adding to his eight NRL games. While Blake Green and Ben Hampton will make Mann's pathway to the NRL a difficult one, his utility value – where he can play in every position in the backline – will be beneficial.
9. Jake Granville (Cowboys)
The Cowboys hooking battle heated up over the weekend with new recruit Jake Granville impressing plenty. Showing his defensive capabilities as well as his quick feet – see his runaway try against the Eels in the quarter-final – Granville has given coach Paul Green a nice selection headache. Having left the Broncos with an eye on adding to his 10 NRL games, Granville is taking all the right steps to dethrone Rory Kostjasyn as the club's hooker – and at $189,000 he is player to watch for NRL Fantasy coaches.
8. Kevin Naiqama (Tigers)
David Nofoaluma couldn't have picked a worse time to be injured if Kevin Naiqama's form is any indication. A well-known speedster, it was Naiqama's offloading ability across the park which held him in good stead. Able to play anywhere in the back five, Naiqama's five tackle breaks and two offloads – one of which set up the Tigers' match-winning try against the Raiders – proved his hair wasn't the only part of him which excelled. Along with the fellow youngsters Josh Drinkwater and Manaia Cherrington, Naiqama was a huge reason the Tigers made the quarter finals and topped the Hunua Ranges pool.
7. Chris Grevsmuhl (Rabbitohs)
The Rabbitohs back-rower inched closer to making his NRL debut after his starring role in the Nines-winning Bunnies outfit. After being overlooked for the first round of the pool fixtures and the quarter-finals, Grevsmuhl returned to the Souths side when Ben Lowe was injured against Newcastle. In the final two games of Souths' tournament, Grevsmuhl was responsible for a crucial charge down try, a try-assist, 60 run metres, a tackle break and 10 tackles.
6. Reece Robinson (Eels)
Never fear Parra fans – Reece Robinson is here! A new face at the club in the post-Hayne era, the 27-year-old flyer averaged 34.4 metres throughout the Eels' five matches. Capable of playing anywhere in the back five, Parramatta looks to have found a keeper in the rejuvenated Robinson, who is four games off his 100th game in the NRL. While Corey Norman and Chris Sandow starred, Robinson was a constant threat and was able to keep the ball alive with plenty of offloads. At $218,000 in NRL fantasy, Robinson looks more than likely to secure a wing spot come Round 1.
5. Valentine Holmes (Sharks)
If there was one aspect of the Nines which suffered last weekend it was drop-kick conversions. Valentine Holmes is a name known to diehard Cronulla fans, after playing six games in the NRL last year, but relatively unheard of in the wider spectrum of rugby league. However, his amazing sideline drop-kick conversion in the dying moments of the grand final to send the game into extra-time was something nobody will forget anytime soon. Having missed two conversions earlier in the game, Holmes's crucial clutch kick highlighted the 19-year-old's calmness with the tournament on the line. Holmes showed his worth after producing plenty of tackle breaks (six) and assists (two line-break assists, two try assists) throughout the tournament for the runners-up.
4. Eto Nabuli (Dragons)
With a skip and hop as he edged ever so closely to the sideline before scoring a ridiculous try against Manly, Dragons winger Eto Nabuli literally took all the right steps towards replacing club legend Brett Morris in the NRL this season. While his three tries, 67 metres per game and numerous line breaks had Red V fans on their feet, Nabuli unveiled his offloading ability at the Nines which led to a couple of try-of-the-tournament contenders – when he wasn't scoring them himself.
3. Tepai Moeroa (Eels)
Overlooked for the very first game of the tournament, back-rower Moeroa didn't let coach Brad Arthur down from there on. With plenty of Parramatta forwards vying for limited spots in the coming weeks, Moeroa put his hand up for an NRL berth with several barnstorming efforts. Rabbitoh Dave Tyrrell will be the first player to tell you Moeroa is a scary prospect with the prop coming off second best up against the 19-year-old's shoulder. Moeroa's tally of two tries, 25 tackles and a sneaky line-break assist is a great sign of things to come in his young career.
2. Solomone Kata (Warriors)
Solomone Kata is one player who rose to the top last weekend. Easily the cream of the crop of the Warriors squad across the tournament – and an absolute steal in NRL Fantasy if he plays first grade (costing just $128,000) – the 20-year-old utility back earned a spot in the Team of the Nines as well as top try-scorer honours along with the admiration of a vocal Auckland crowd. As well as helping the Warriors to a finals berth with a try-scoring double and 125 metres against the Tigers, Kata surely perked up the interest of rival clubs with the Warriors rich in quality outside backs.
1. Jack Bird (Sharks)
Jack Bird proved to be arguably the best player at the tournament yet to make his debut in the NRL. The Junior Kangaroo and Under-20s Origin representative topped the try-scoring count, alongside Kata and a few others, and proved once again why former club St George Illawarra is livid they lost him to their local rivals. Adept in most positions across the paddock, Bird – when he wasn't scoring four tries – was busy setting them up (two assists), breaking tackles (10) and making them (34). A first-grade debut is inevitable in 2015 for the potential Fantasy cash cow.