Top 10 NRL recruits of 2015
NRL.com takes a look at the Top 10 NRL recruits of the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership season. Which fresh faces helped their teams the most? Who was the buy of the year?
10. Ryan Hoffman (Warriors)
The NRL's lone New Zealand team has always had size up front and plenty of flair in the backs, but what they've lacked at times is genuine class and consistency in the pack (besides Kiwis skipper Simon Mannering). That made Ryan Hoffman the perfect signing for them this season, and he's helped the Warriors develop from a rocks-and-diamonds side to a genuine finals threat. A terrific line runner on the left edge, the NSW second-rower scored tries in each of his first three games for his new club and has been solid as a rock since then.
9. Blake Green (Storm)
Replacing Gareth Widdop at five-eighth has been a top priority for the Storm for the past couple of years but they've finally found their man in Green, a one-time NRL journeyman who played for three clubs in four seasons before a successful four-year run in the English Super League. His eight tries this season are second only to winger Marika Koroibete at the Storm (another successful 2015 recruit for Melbourne) and he's combined that with nine try assists to take the playmaking pressure off superstar halfback Cooper Cronk. Green's tries have come on the back of some terrific support play – he ranks second behind Mitchell Pearce for most support runs this season – and with playmaking fullback Billy Slater out for the season, Green will be a crucial factor in Melbourne's finals campaign this year.
8. Blake Ferguson (Roosters)
The former Canberra Raiders speedster with a chequered past has emerged as yet another genuine attacking weapon in an already star-studded Roosters side, with flashes of true brilliance on the Tricolours' dangerous right edge. Ferguson suffered an injury blow mid-season that may have denied him a NSW State of Origin call-up, but returned from his break an even better player for the Roosters. He's one of only a handful of players in the NRL to average at least one line break per game and with raw speed, power and evasiveness that few in the league can match he's sure to be a factor in the Roosters' finals run.
7. Brett Morris (Bulldogs)
The one thing last year's grand finalists the Bulldogs seemed to be missing in 2014 was a genuine star fullback, so the recruitment of Brett Morris – twin brother of Bulldogs centre Josh – always made sense. The question mark over his signing was whether the former Dragons winger could successfully make the transition to the custodian role, but it was a question 'B-Moz' answered instantly. In Round 1 this season Morris scored a try, made three line breaks and a whopping 11 tackle breaks and ran for 196 metres in a devastating performance against the Panthers. Injury has restricted him to just 11 appearances in the first 22 rounds of the season but with five tries already Morris could prove to be the final piece of the puzzle for Des Hasler's men.
6. Josh Hodgson (Raiders)
Once considered a retirement home for ageing NRL players, the English Super League has increasingly become a genuine source of savvy buys for NRL clubs looking for experienced, proven performers. Canberra made a couple of smart buys from England in the off-season, including the recruitment of 25-year-old England international hooker Hodgson from Hull KR. Hooker has been a headache position for the Raiders for years with several solid but unspectacular candidates wearing the No.9, but they've found a genuine playmaker in Hodgson. Among NRL hookers the Englishman ranks third for try assists and fifth for tackle breaks in his first season down under, helping the Raiders become one of the league's strongest attacking sides.
5. Michael Ennis (Sharks)
One of the more curious off-season player movements was the effective "trade" of young Sharks hooker Michael Lichaa for veteran Bulldogs rake (and then skipper) Michael Ennis. Lichaa may go on to become a star but the Sharks arguably got the better end of the deal in 2015, with Ennis turning back the clock to become a real asset in a Cronulla side already featuring a wealth of experience in the pack. He's been strong in attack with 14 try assists – sixth best in the NRL – and 12 line-break assists, and age hasn't wearied his workload in defence either with more tackles than any other Shark in 2015. He's also touched the ball more times than any other player in the NRL this season.
4. Iosia Soliola (Raiders)
A former centre in his first life in the NRL, Iosia Soliola returned from a stint in the Super League as a complete 80-minute second-rower. He ranks 15th in the NRL for tackles this season and is always on hand in attack as well with the fourth-most supports of any NRL forward this season plus half a dozen line break assists and five line breaks of his own. In the process he's become a favourite among NRL Fantasy coaches; until his season-ending injury a fortnight ago he was in more Fantasy teams than any other player in the league.
3. Anthony Milford (Broncos)
Milford's exploits at fullback for Canberra and Samoa had established him as a huge talent before he joined the Brisbane Broncos, but it was unclear if he could make the transition to becoming a consistent playmaker in the halves. He made a rusty start to the season but coach Wayne Bennett persevered with him at five-eighth despite the critics and by the second half of the season that faith was paying dividends. Now, with Brisbane sitting atop the NRL Telstra Premiership, Milford has eight tries and 13 try assists to his name, plus more tackle breaks than any other Bronco or any other half in the NRL, and the second-most offloads of any NRL half. His natural brilliance with ball in hand is proving a great foil for fellow young half Ben Hunt and the duo could inspire a new era of dominance at Brisbane.
2. Jake Granville (Cowboys)
It used to just be the Johnathan Thurston show at North Queensland. Sure, the Cowboys have a couple of Australian Test props in Matt Scott and James Tamou, but far too often Thurston seemed to be carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders. Not anymore. The Cowboys now boast arguably the strongest spine in the NRL, with Thurston combining with Queensland super sub Michael Morgan in the halves, rejuvenated former Panther Lachlan Coote at the back and the explosive Granville at dummy-half. The hooker position has caused headaches for the Cowboys for years but Granville has made it his own in 2015, becoming arguably the most dangerous rake in the competition in the process. His nine tries and nine line breaks are the most of any hooker this season.
1. Blake Austin (Raiders)
A jack-of-all-trades in his previous stints with the Panthers and Wests Tigers, Austin was handed the responsibility of being Canberra's chief playmaker with the Raiders five-eighth role this year, first alongside youngster Mitch Cornish and then returning halfback Sam Williams. The responsibility has brought out the best in 24-year-old, whose dazzling running game (and unique facial hair) has turned heads this season. He is Canberra's leading try-scorer and the 10th best in the NRL after 22 rounds; ranks fifth in the league for line breaks; and has also set up teammates with seven try assists. His arrival helped turn the NRL's wooden spoon favourites into one of the best attacking teams in the league. No wonder NSW fans are calling on Austin to be given a call-up to the Blues next season.
Other notable mentions: Jack Bird, Michael Lichaa, Curtis Rona, Tariq Sims, Adam Blair, Darius Boyd, Sam Williams, Josh Hoffman, Apisai Koroisau, Glenn Stewart.